The money can be very good; the hassles mostly minor, and the hours totally flexible, say some of the boomers driving locally for the ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.
Sharon Carty, 70, began driving for both companies in April. She likes setting her own hours.
“I drive sunrise to sunset, and I know I’m going to get a certain type of rider,” Carty said. These hours allow her to avoid issues that some night drivers encounter, “like trying to clean up after someone who drank too much. That doesn’t happen during days.”
Most of Carty’s riders are young, but she drives some older residents as well, mostly during morning or mid-day trips around town. “You have a group of senior citizens who no longer drive, and they might need a ride to a friend’s house, to grocery shop or to get to a doctor’s office,” she explains, noting that she tries to provide extra assistance in some cases such as opening doors, helping someone to the car and folding up walkers.
“It’s about 10 minutes of great conversation until they reach their destination, and you roll out the red carpet and make it a really pleasant experience for them,” said Carty.
As a woman, Carty is very aware of safety issues, so she especially appreciates the rating system both companies use for rating both riders and drivers.
“The driver rates the rider, and the rider rates the driver after every single ride. A five-star rating is good; a one-star rating is very bad, and you can get fired. At the same time, riders can be banned from riding with the services if it’s been reported that they were acting inappropriately, said Carty.
Carlton Davis, 66, has driven for Uber since March and has bailed people out of potentially dangerous situations. “Students are the largest target of the services’ marketing plans, and many of their parents prefer that they use Uber when they are drinking,” he explained. “They would rather pay for a ride as opposed to paying for a DUI.” Davis also drives people his own age, often visitors who are in Athens for business or pleasure.
Sixty-year-old Dennis Amberson has been an Uber driver for three months, and he shuttles passengers not just around Athens, but also to and from Atlanta. “Older people have discovered it,” he said. “These passengers are often headed for a night on the town in Atlanta. Around the Buckhead area, at every high-end restaurant over there you’ll see Uber cars in and out picking up people in their 60s and 70s.”
Catching a ride 21st century style
Many a boomer can recall thumbing a ride or sharing a ride in the ’60s and early ’70s. Whether backpacking in Europe or just getting back and forth from college to home without a car, the baby boomer generation has experience with ride-sharing. Now, with fading vision, worn-out joints and inconvenient public transit, the 50-plus crowd in the Athens area is turning to the newest trend in getting around. While a 2015 national study by the Pew Research Center found only 4 percent of people over 65 had downloaded Uber or a similar ride-hailing service, compared to nearly 20 percent of those age 30 to 49, older
Americans are getting on board slowly but surely.
Fifty-year-old Daniel Smith lives in Athens, but often spends time with his mother, who lives in Bogart. “I was trying to find a way for us to get into Athens because the bus only goes as far as the mall,” he said. “I came upon Uber and Lyft through a Google search.”
Smith, who doesn’t own a car, says Uber takes him from his place in Athens to his mother’s home in Bogart for $6 or $7. He calls the service when he and his mother go shopping or out for a meal. Cabs are a different story. “From Bogart one time late at night, I had to go somewhere in Athens and I called a taxi. It was a $40 flat rate,” Smith said.
One 64-year-old local resident heard about Uber from her 30-year-old daughter who lives in Atlanta, and uses it for emergencies. “I was traveling with my handicapped daughter and the handicapped taxi canceled at the last minute, so we just called Uber,” she said.
To use these new ride-share services, passengers must sign up online at Uber.com or Lyft.com, download the software application or “app” to their cell phones, then provide credit card information. After that, customers can call for a ride from wherever they are, and the nearest available driver will head their way. The app identifies the driver and the make and model of the car, as well as expected arrival time, which explains why, more and more, you see people on sidewalks staring intently at the traffic. At 80 cents per mile, riders can catch rides for as low as $5 in Athens, and sometimes use promo codes for free rides.
In addition to lower pricing than cabs, ride-share cars arrive faster, are often cleaner and are available at times when cabs are scarce. The one downside is “surge” pricing, which means fares rise during high-demand times (think game days).
For those who may want to earn extra income during retirement by driving for a service, Davis encourages new drivers to set their hours strategically.
“To maximize your income, plan when you are going to drive,” he said “You want to drive when there is a high demand or when there are fewer drivers on the road.” He also cautions new drivers to be aware of increasingly long wait times. “One of the most difficult things to get used to is waiting for people after arrival.”
Carty has had some issues regarding trip fares. Sometimes riders will schedule one trip, but have one or two stops to make, “so actually they’re making three trips, but they just want to pay for one,” she said.
There’s also the problem of riders selecting the wrong-sized vehicle. Uber groups its cars into categories: UberX seats four riders and is the cheapest option; UberXL seats six passengers and costs more. UberSelect is a luxury vehicle that seats up to 4 riders, and UberBLACK is a vehicle with both black interior and exterior.
Forty-six-year-old Elaine Valentine, who has been driving for Uber for a year and a half, has a vehicle that is classified as UberX and an UberBLACK, which comes in handy between June and October. “A lot of folks who have events like weddings or parties specifically look for a black vehicle to go to those events,” she said.
She cautions that she has encountered issues with some students wanting her to accommodate more people than her car can safely carry. Valentine said these students know they need a car that can carry four plus, but, “they’ll still try to get a vehicle that’s classified as a small SUV, or try to bribe you. I’m not taking a chance. I have too much to lose if there should be an accident. Each individual has to have a seat belt.”
Carty also has had riders mistakenly request the wrong size car, but it was an easy fix.
“They just stood there and canceled the trip and requested a correct-sized vehicle,” Carty said.
While Valentine does especially well during football season, she often transports older riders for repeat medical care such as chemotherapy treatments or dialysis as well as those “heading to an event at the country club, downtown to eat or to weddings.”
She finds older riders usually request rides between 1:30 and 3 in the afternoon in order to “beat the surge, or the most requested times,” she said. Surge pricing will often be seven or even nine times the regular fare. Valentine puts aside her surge earnings for car maintenance.
“I try to work 30 hours a week, which I often squeeze in over two to three days, averaging $300-500 a week,” she said. “Overall, you have more good days than you do bad.”
Uber Technologies was the first online transportation network company. Officially launched in 2011 in San Francisco, where it’s based, Uber essentially markets and operates a smartphone-based software program or “app” that allows consumers to request an Uber-approved driver who is nearest them. Using their own car, drivers are paid through the app, which automatically calculates the fare and transfers it from the passenger’s credit card to the driver’s credit card. Lyft and other companies have replicated the business model. Now there’s an app called Meter that compares pricing of a particular route by the various companies.
Signing up up to drive for Uber or Lyft:
- Drivers must download the app from either the Google Play store or the Apple App store, depending on type of phone., then enter basic information and a password for Uber; Lyft sends a verification code.
- Both companies require proof or photos of a driver’s license, VIN number, proof of insurance and Social Security number for background checks.
- Cars must pass inspection and, in Lyft’s case, a mentor also inspects the vehicle and goes on a practice ride. Each company has a logo that must be displayed on the windshield.
Catching a ride:
- Download the app to your smartphone and enter your phone number. The company will send you a four-digit verification code via text.
- Once you enter the code, your name, and your email, you click “payment” and enter your credit card information.
- Verify the address where you want to be picked up and then enter your destination. Uber also lets you select your preferred vehicle.
- Then you wait and look.
Publication: Boom Athens / January 19th, 2017
Photo Credit: Betsy Bean