A Female Uber Driver Tells All

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Women Uber drivers are like aliens or ghosts. Sure you may hear about them, but you rarely see them for yourself.

In my own experience as an Uber passenger, I have only come across one female driver. One: a Black woman in Baltimore. I found myself treating her like you do a new kid on the first day of school — and wanted to extract as much information from her as possible before I reached my destination.

I didn’t think much of asking her questions about her experience, until I became one of the few women who work as Uber drivers, and I finally learned that everyone asks the same questions.

When a passenger gets into my car, the first thing they typically say is some variation of, "Oh, I haven't had a girl driver before!" or "Aren't you pretty for an Uber driver." “Yeah, I get that a lot," I say awkwardly. That’s followed by a slew of questions on what it's like to be a woman who drives for Uber. Do men harass me? Have I had any bad experiences? Do I feel safe? Do I get tipped? Do my parents worry for me? Is my boyfriend okay with it?
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Riders ask: Is my boyfriend okay with it?

For the record: Uber doesn’t allow tipping, though people have discreetly put a few singles in my cup holder on several occasions. My mom does worry about me, but then again, she always worries about me. My boyfriend is okay with it because of the rules I play by, and also because he is a Lyft driver, so he understands the game.

I presume customers ask these questions in part because women only make up 19% of the Uber workforce — not to mention the company’s ongoing issues with women in general. But that doesn’t stop me from getting annoyed.

People also have very specific expectations of their Uber drivers. Passengers often get into my car and don’t acknowledge me at all, assuming that I don’t speak English. Once I ask if the car temperature is comfortable, or if they have a music preference, they are quick to apologize and explain that their driver usually doesn’t speak English. These people are usually the most shocked when I tell them I have a college degree.
"Why do you work Uber then?" they ask, while trying their hardest to not sound so shocked or horrified.

I tell them I drive for Uber part-time and they immediately ask what my real job is. I explain that I am a writer, with an MFA in creative writing, and that Uber helps supplement the fluctuation in income freelance writers encounter from time to time. If I drive for Uber three to four times a week, an average of three hours per day, that ensures I can at the very least make my car and car insurance payment, as well as pay toward my student loan debt each month.
Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
So how did I end up driving for the biggest car-sharing service in the world? A few months back I had a conversation with a male Uber driver. On our ride to the airport, he explained how the process works: Uber gets 20% while the driver get 80%. It seemed like a pretty good deal, so I inquired some more. He said the application process was very easy and done entirely online. Uber can help a driver finance a car, but if you have a four-door car of your own that is a 2006 model or newer, you can use your own car. He said the key to making good money is to drive in major cities during surge hours, like holidays or Friday and Saturday nights. I mentioned that I was looking to make extra money and asked if this was something he would recommend for a woman to do. He said that his sister also drives for Uber, but that she operates under her own set of rules: She only drives in daylight hours. Also, she does not drive in college or party areas to avoid the drunk bar crowds.

I applied online and was accepted as an Uber driver within three days. I began to drive my own car — a Jeep Patriot — shortly after, and adopted those rules as my own, and then some.

I decline to pick up passengers in unsafe neighborhoods, even if they have a five-star rating. When a man asks too many questions, I quickly make it a point to mention my boyfriend, and I always place my purse in the passenger’s seat to deter people from sitting next to me. I've never broken these rules.

I haven’t met another woman driver since I started driving. If there’s a secret club of them, I’m not a member. A rider once told me that he knew of one other female Uber driver nearby. He said she averages $500 to $700 on a Saturday night. He also said that men are constantly trying to get her to come in for a nightcap when she drops them off. No thank you.

It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, when I follow my strict rules I am able to weed out the likelihood of unwanted encounters — but on the other, I am really limiting the amount of money I can make. For me, the only real money making rides are those to the airport, which are typically attached to a surge charge. But the real big bucks are made on New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday, neither of which I worked. For me, I’m happy if I make between $100 and $150 during a three-to-four-hour shift.
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I haven’t met another woman driver since I started driving.

I mostly work in New Jersey, where I live, though I do venture into New York City from time to time — but only during daylight hours, of course.

Don’t get me wrong though; being selective about when and where I chose to drive doesn’t completely weed out the crazies. I’ve had passengers who spent most of an hour-long drive attempting to convert me to Jehovah’s Witness. I also had a guy who insisted I stop at the liquor store mid-ride and drank from the bottle the whole way home. I even had a woman who tried to solicit me as her personal assistant. She might have been the worst.

She said she used Uber daily, and asked for my personal phone number so that I could be her driver every day. At the time it sounded like a good idea because it would be consistent money. Next thing I know I’m moving stuff out of her storage unit and filling my car to the brim with her crap, and then unloading it at her house. She also wanted me to sell a piano for her on the internet. For no extra money. Note to fellow Uber drivers out there: Don't give your personal phone number to strangers. It took me weeks to break up with that woman.

Crazies aside, there are some pros to Ubering. For one, I don’t have a boss; I don’t even have coworkers. It's just me and my car, and it’s completely up to me when I want to turn on the app. It’s a great option for people who want or need extra income while still maintaining a sense of freedom that you do not get from a part-time retail job.

But to answer the big question: Why do I drive for Uber?

The answer for me is simple: For the same reason we all work. Because I need the money.
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