Category: Personal Tales

One year later: How’s the 1099 economy treating me & tips for drivers starting out

So this whole sharing economy/personal case study has been definitely interesting and eye opening. Much of it has been a struggle personally to earn even a minimum wage living. I’ve gone so lean some months as to struggled to make my car payments, and negatively effect my credit by about 100 points!

The mission of this blog has changed over time. As it stands, I am creating a resource site for new drivers. I offer my personal story as a cautionary tale as it is definitely tough to earn a sustainable  full time living with these type of side hustle gigs without a lot of hours of dedication. Bear on mind my story may only apply to those working and living in bigger metros where a higher cost of living is the reality. In California, it gets hard for even in demand programmers to stretch their dollars!

As time goes on, I’ll be developing and promoting existing tools and looking to  help drivers see what they’re truly earning and where they might be losing money.

In the end these kind of side hustle gigs in the sharing economy are great part time gigs for high school and college students, housewives, and anyone looking to make a little extra money over primary income sources. Those looking to these gigs as a full time opportunity, I’d have to caution that they aren’t the type of jobs that you should approach unless you have no other options. Many times you earn much less than minimum wage whether we’re talking about food delivery, ride sharing, and similar sharing/1099 economy businesses. In the end there are only a few days a week where you truly earn what the trouble it causes is worth.  You have to put in 55+ hours weekly to earn a decent Bay Area living. And the sharing portion of the economy should refer to your sharing the expense of operating a vehicle.

All in all, I am still happy that I left my office job to pursue this. It is given me great perspective on my career and on the sharing/1099 economy.  The independence has been empowering along with the opportunity to earn while looking for the right next job. It’s allowed me ample time to focus my energy on the fields I do enjoy working in.

One major complaint I have that is not being addressed by the press is the fact that the sharing economy is changing the view of service workers in the minds of consumers in a very damaging way. Often times apps downplay the practice of tipping for good service. Services like Postmates will promote during special promos that customers should tip less. Uber states that surge pricing IS tipping. This is not only detrimental for sharing economy contractors, but also those working in restaurants or other traditional service jobs. The more consumers move towards lowering and eventually eliminating tips, the less earnings for everyone in service imdustries.  The job is still demanding enough to require tips and those services pay a miserly amount to its drivers. Decades ago, I earned decent tips bussing and waiting tables.  With most sharing/1099 economy jobs, I’m lucky to walk with $5 in tips after 10 hours!  And I know I offer excellent customer service as my 5 star ratings confirm.

On top of that, independent contractors don’t have the rights that regular W-4 employees would. If drivers don’t like the job or how they are paid or treated, the best they can do is quit. With traditional service jobs, at least restaurant workers they can strike all at once and hopefully impact their workplace.  They still have the same risks of losing their job but at least their impact is felt by management immediately.

With all that said, I would offer up some major suggestions for becoming a driving for these type of gigs:

Keep your expenses down! I can’t state how important this is.  With a car payment being your most significant expense, you are always better off owning your car(provided ot is fairly new).  If you are able to find a fuel efficient car that you can buy outright, do it!  That or consider leasing.  I’m committed to a loan and the earnings really never catch up enough without giving up a significant out of quality of life.

Hire a knowledgeable tax professional: I use Tax Ninja in San Francisco and they really opened my eyes to more than just important deductions to take.  They’ve also helped me crunch the numbers and show what I was truely making per hour.  It was a gigantic surprise how much my earnings were truely and influenced my earnings strategy.

Consider all financial and physical liabilities: If you don’t plan properly, your financial health can take a serious hit. Beyond this, consider how much toll your body physically takes driving 40 hours plus per week. it doesn’t make any sense to literally kill yourself making “lots of money” just to completely wreck your body. 

– Follow your instinct, not the company or what other drivers tell you online or in person: I say this for a few reasons.  If you have watched the news over the last few years you have seen how fiercely Uber has been defending that they do not employ any drivers and they should all be classified as independent contractors.  Most of these businesses do not want the expense of hiring employees and it also speaks to the model. 

They care about their bottom line and much less else.  Because of the nature of independent contractors they can’t direct you, therefore do not show you how to maximize earnings.  To make it all work you have to do your own research, track your expenses, pay quarterly taxes, and decide which gigs are worth the wear & tear & headache.

Know what is happening in your target cities: It’s important to be able to forecast possible busy times.  If you are more likely to make

Ultimately these gigs are a tough grind.  Summers and winters can be a tough on ridesharing particularly in the bay area.  Locals travel away during summer and in winter spend most of their money on gifts and travel to relatives.  Tourist do need rides at these times but foot traffic is very light in winter.

Bottom line, these are great mlside hustles for part timers.  But ridesharing is changing rapidly with new insurance requirements that lower your earning potential.  I settled on a full time delivery job until I can find the right traditional job. 

Like the old adage goes, don’t quit your day job. At the very least run all the numbers before you commit so you can make any informed decision.

My Spoon Rocket review

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Spoon Rocket has a special place in my heart. They got their start in Berkeley serving students ready to eat healthy food options delivered within 2 to 20 minutes. When they started expanding into Oakland it was a godsend!

Like several new sharing economy startups, I became a customer first and then decided to drive for  them for the purpose of sharing my experience with you. I also wanted to saisfy my curiosity of peeking behind the curtain so to speak.

It’s tough giving an honest, unbiased review for Spoon Rocket as I truly appreciate the service. The food is of excellent quality, drivers typically are friendly and very quick  deliver. Finding good delivery food in Oakland is a challenge and they fill an urgent need in the community. Overall, Spoon Rocket is amazing.

I have been driving for the company for several months now. Unlike other food delivery businesses, Spoon Rocket chooses a method of paying delivery providers different than the rest. There are no guarantees of hourly earnings. For example, some shifts you may esrn a lot less than minimum wage. Other times shifts may be extremely lucrative. Like most sharing economy businesses that employ independent contractors you are saddled with the responsibility of choosing shifts that are worth working. They do not give tips for success and it is up to you to muddle through it via trial and error. You are on your own for really everything.

After a slow Friday night, I’m choosing to pair back my Spoon Rocket shifts. At the moment I choose to only work on the slower days that I wouldn’t want to drive for ride sharing services. Usually that means working Tuesday, Wednesday and possibly Sunday. Most times I stick to evening shifts because dinner is a much more lucrative time to work. Unfortunately although the food is great and you take home a free meal after 4 hours, it isn’t quite worth working tons of hours.

I wish Spoon Rocket all the success in the world. But I’m not sure this is a sustainable business model. The heavy turnover of drivers, disappointed by the lower earnings, makes it tough to keep a stable workforce that is kind, accurate and able to deliver their delicious food in a quick manner.

Lyft riders blotter: 11-3-14 recap

Not every shift is memorable.  But you do learn a lot about the citizens of San Francisco by driving them to their desired destinations.  The blotter below highlights memorable Lyft riders from my 11-3-14 shift.

A beautiful sunset for Lyft riders

Photo courtesy of pkg203 on Wikipedia

A major feature that I’ve wanted to add is stories about my Lyft riders.  Many may remember the show Taxi Cab Confessions, which inspires me to document what happens in and around my car.  It’s a challenge to remember the details of every conversation so only a few get written up.  This last weekend I had the thought to start writing up some of the encounters I have in police blotter style:

  • Young SF’er expounding on gentrification: This is a hot topic often in my car.  He had only been living in the city and I could tell he was doing well at whatever career he was in.  You could tell he had some discomfort with the subject.  New SF residents get a lot of flack for their disconnect from older culture, buildings, neighborhoods, and businesses.  Case in point is Dropbox employee doucheyness in the Mission.
    Even with his discomfort, the conversation was good and we did agree on a lot of points.  I blame a lot of SF’s sudden disregard for culture, neighborhoods, long time residents, etc on the tail end of former Mayor-now Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom’s term (when he was headed to state office and absent from the city), and the whole of Mayor Ed Lee’s rule of the public office.  Their growth plans had little regard for those who have been padding the tax roll beyond their years in office.  And something that has remained the same for decades is that affordable housing projects aren’t affordable.
  • Bartender on way to work at Fisherman’s Wharf: This was a fun conversation.  We spoke about the love for manual transmissions when driving in the city.  Yes we are both crazy! We also spoke about the ever changing city and his workplace at Fisherman’s Wharf.  The businesses down there don’t get nearly enough traffic.  Business owners pay through the nose for rent for a property that looks good initially.  But breaking even is hard down there.  He normally sees European tourists primarily and that’s it.  They are slightly off the beaten path and most tourists don’t bother after they’ve cruised the Embarcadero and Pier businesses.  The area is surrounding with 3 star hotels, which don’t supply nearly enough foot traffic.  It’s sad but he only gave the bar he works at 6 months before they close.  That’s a rough spot to be in.
  • Entitled, agro motorcyclist: Changing lanes to get to a passenger, I accidentally cut off a motorcyclist as I change lanes.  Mind you, I had my turn signal on long enough that I could have penned him an invitation to go by.  Rather than scoff with discontent, he  gets close to my door, gives me the finger, and kicks my mirror.  No harm done but if I run into him again, I’m getting a picture of him and filing a police report.
  • Three daytime drunks on their way to a gay bar: I picked them up near the Golden Gate Bridge observation area.  A newly met couple and their out-of-town male gay friend.  He felt bad for even introducing the two because they both were a mess and ruining his trip to SF.  Soon after they got in the car, yelling and arguing ensued.  The gay friend I sympathized with cause he was mildly drunk but well behaved.  His friends were walking all over him and each other.  His male friend became belligerent with his friend, his new ex-girlfriend, and then suddenly me.  After setting boundaries that he could not obey(because drunk), I kicked him out, having to yell most of the interaction because he was bent on talking over me and cussing me out.
  • Polar opposite ride following the last: My nerves were a little shot after the last.  My next request was a chill couple wanting to travel through Golden Gate park.  This was a much needed reset for me and a good ride for them as well.  They obviously were in a good place and more than friendly with me and each other.

I had many more Lyft riders, but these stuck out for obvious reasons.  More to come in the near future. Give me your feedback and let me know if you like it or have good suggestions

Day after Halloween aweful for Lyft, Uber drivers

Hi all. So I’m blogging now Saturday night as i wait for ride requests because traffic on the Lyft app is awful tonight. This is the worst night I have ever experienced since joining Lyft as a driver. I ran into another driver at Safeway in the parking lot who confirmed exactly what was happening. Between the two of us we figure out that demand was very low tonight and supply was at an all time high, resulting in most drivers getting no more than one ride request per hour on average. This meant that most drivers would end up working at minimum wage or less for the hours they’ve put in.

Both Lyft and Uber offered insane guarantees of $40 per hour for drivers working during peak hours on Thursday, Halloween, and Saturday. That was great incentive to drive on such a busy, drunken holiday.   But Saturday was horribly oversold as a busy night, which it most certainly wasn’t.

My hypotheses is that between the warching the World Series, a Friday Halloween, along with the world series winning Giants celebration parade, this left most San Franciscans too fatigued and incapable of extending the party into Saturday night.

I should know. I lived in SF till I was priced out and moved to Oakland. The SF lifestyle I still know well though.

Forecasting Saturday, November 1st as a high demand day was a big mistake and had to be made by someone who hasn’t been a SF resident for very many days. SF has a pattern of chilling after a party streak binge drinking work week. The majority forgo extending the party into Saturday because the week kicked their asses.

As a part time event planner, I forget that holidays as big as Halloween landing on a Friday will often fatigue attendees to where the majority will not go out on a Saturday night and definitely not a Sunday night. What this leads me to believe is that both services did not forecast appropriately for this event, leaving a lot of us drivers steaming over the fact that we weren’t going to hit our guarantees. Yet another carrot on a string dangled in front of our faces which we could never actually reach.

Right now ride sharing services are in an odd limbo with insurance companies not covering drivers working for ride sharing services. Once a ride provider gets in an accident, the majority of the time insurance companies will not continue to cover them, on top of the fact that they won’t cover them for said accident because they’re operating the car for business purposes. This is been confirmed by drivers in the private Facebook groups and a petition is circulating to further provide ways to protect drivers and push the conversation forward.

I also spoke to the the same driver about driving on Halloween. Lyft was slammed with so many ride requests on Halloween night that between 9 p.m. And 11 p.m. Servers went down and the service essentially went dead. This meant that not only were drivers unable to pick up request for 3 hours, it also meant that the amount of hours logged on servers was corrupted, effectively screwing drivers out of guaranteed wages and bonuses that had been documented in emails to drivers.  Tech support exacerbated the problem by also stating a later deadline for drivers to be paid their guaranteed wages.

Most drivers are operating on very very thin margins of profitability. After paying for gas, maintenance, car payments, and insurance there’s not a lot left over in order to provide a living wage. In some cases if you decide to only become a daytime driver, you will not end up with a decent living wage for driving for any of the services. This leaves us all steaming tonight over the idea that that we are making a lot less money because of bad forecasting.

At this point I’m fairly invested in ridesharing as a income source. But after tonight, I do have to seriously reconsider what I’m doing because  something like bad forecasting can affect my income especially at a critical time. Something that I think both executives at Lyft and Uber forget is that drivers drive depend on making a decent income to pay bills.  They don’t get to live in the entitled life cycle of Silicon Valley companies, raking in capital hand over fist.  They drive because this can be a decent job.  That was not the case Saturday.

Bottom line, I love you Lyft but I have to really think about you differently after tonight.  You are starting to forget that drivers are half of your company.  You need to step up and act like it.

Transporter, blogger, dj… I wear many hats & I’m @wordcamp #wcsf14

Hi all.  Those that meet me know I am not satisfied with just bwing good at one thing.  I occupy my time with all sorts of pursuits.

One of these is Web design using WordPress.  I mention this because I am attending Wordcamp this weekend at Mission Bay in SF.  It’s a great conference and I highly recommend it.  If you see me around, come say hi.  Tweet me @djunagi to contact me direct.

As a driver, sometimes you have a day or night that makes you quit early…..

I started driving this afternoon on a great note.  My male passenger was an very intelligent gentleman who started conversation early about the exciting news from Lockheed Martin claiming delivery of nuclear fusion in the next 10 years.  I’m skeptical but it’s great news and the kind of nerdy topic that gets me excited.

The day bleeds into night and the city lights up with tons of excitement.  If the day has been any indication, tonight should be busy.  I took an early meal break so that I can try and take advantage of the evening rush.  All is going great till I clock back in and get my next passengers, a couple who immediately start arguing for the first five minutes of the ride.  The rest of the ride is ackwardly silent and it feels like we are all holding our breath.  It’s the first notable crazy incident I’ve had driving for Lyft.

My next rider is a 2o-something headed to the Mission for LitQuake.  I drop her off on Valencia and get stuck in a standstill just down the block due to traffic lights being suddenly out.  Turning a corner to escape the congestion, I get a request in the thick of it on 16th off Mission.  Finding the only safe spot near the passenger, I sandwich myself in between Monk’s Kitchen and Delerium in the side street that separates them.  Traffic is way too heavy to double park on 16th.  The car behind me doesn’t have the patience to drive around me and won’t lay off her horn.  They either don’t understand what hazard lights signify or lack the confidence to drive around me.  Either way it’s annoying and I’m ready to get out of the car and direct them around me!  Instead I block most of the pedestrian pathway.

The rider had requested a Lyft Line and wasn’t showing anywhere i could see.  No profile pick so I can’t see who they are.  The 90 seconds they have to show up passes and I have to cancel the ride.  Just as I turn the corner, they flag me down.  I apologize and let them know I had to cancel the ride because I couldn’t find them from the one place I could park.  They give no thought to the fact that they were in a horrible spot for pick up.  As I leave, I hear her say she is going to email Lyft.  Uhg.  This is why I don’t live in SF anymore.  The new entitlement of the young in the city eats at me and I can’t live around it.

I pick up one more set of passengers and get the hell out of the Mission.  During the ride I realize that this is too many bad omens in a row to not pay attention too.  Years back the resolve to listen to my gut and act without doubt became a permanent fixture of my psyche.  I could also get all hippie dippy about energy and such but ultimately my mood was affected and I could recognize it early.

Why a blog?

I started driving for multiple ride sharing and delivery services.  When I realized I could pull in more money jumping into this part of the workforce, I left the my job and went full time.

In August 2014, I began driving for Lyft, Uber, and Instacart.  Each has its own pluses and minuses.  I intend to give you a summary of my experience and tips picked up along the way.

 

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