Personal Finance

Uber, Lyft help seniors moonlight in retirement

Craig Mitchell, 63, of Greenwood, Indiana, has been driving for Uber since March 2014.
Source: Craig Mitchell

Craig Mitchell, 63, makes about $700 a week driving an Uber near Indianapolis while his wife is at work.

"I have five daughters and I used to tell them, 'Don't talk to strangers or get into a stranger's car.' Now I pick up strangers and talk to them for a living," he said.

Mitchell is part of a growing number of seniors driving for ride-hailing apps, such as Uber and Lyft, to supplement their retirement income. On the flip side, the costs and regulations to be a driver are rising while the pay rates have fallen.

Twenty-three percent of people who drive an Uber are 50 or older and two-thirds of drivers have never made money driving before Uber, according to a 2015 company survey.

Uber is actively recruiting older drivers. The company partnered with AARP's Life Reimagined subsidiary to enlist drivers over 50 with a $35 sign-up bonus if they drive 10 times or more. The program has brought in nearly 600 drivers.

Lyft, another popular ride-sharing app, doesn't publicly share how many senior drivers it employs as independent contractors. But people like Dominic Angelo, 67, of Walnut Creek, CA, use the app to boost their retirement income.

"I work about five hours and try to earn $30 per hour, which is a good wage for someone my age," Angelo said. He aims to make $150 per day and usually stops after he hits his target.

After a career in business equipment sales, Mitchell tried his hand at substitute teaching, but the job didn't pay well. "I set my own schedule with Uber and I don't have to deal with the kids," said Mitchell, who has been driving for Uber since March 2014.

Senior pay gap

This flexibility for retirees can come at a cost. SherpaShare, an expense-tracking app for on-demand workers, found that drivers over 50 made around 20 percent less per month than younger drivers at Uber and Lyft for the same amount of driving.

The pay gap actually increased the more hours seniors worked, according to SherpaShare, which surveyed nearly 1,000 drivers last October.

Part of the reason the earning differences exist for older drivers may be that they aren't trying to maximize their revenue like younger drivers by working during peak hours, said Ryder Pearce, SherpaShare's co-founder.

That's the case for Angelo, who only drives two or three days a week for Lyft, often during the weekend, in nearby San Francisco.

"The money and the action is in San Francisco. Millennials have taken over," Angelo said. "But I don't drive at night because of my eyes."

Money behind the wheel

Both Lyft and Uber frequently cut rates to stimulate demand for rides.

The price cuts mean that most people are now driving twice as far to earn the same $10 dollars that they made only two years ago, according to Harry Campbell, a former aerospace engineer and owner of The Rideshare Guy blog and podcast.

When Uber and Lyft drivers cut rates, drivers often react by working at times where they can boost their pay, SherpaShare's Pearce said.

Pay can vary widely depending on the hours worked and location. Uber conducted a study last year that found the average driver made $17 per hour, but it used rates from 2014 that were typically higher than what Uber pays now.

SherpaShare studied fare-per-trip trends based on millions of Uber and Lyft trips tracked by drivers on the SherpaShare app between January and May 2015.

The average Uber trip earned the driver $13.36 before expenses and the average Lyft trip paid the driver $12.53 before expenses in May 2015, according to SherpaShare's self-reported data.

What you need to hit the road

Drivers for Uber and Lyft have to cover the costs of their vehicle, personal liability insurance, gas and a smartphone.

They also pay commissions for using the apps, which can be as high as 25 percent per trip depending on how much they drive. On top of that, Uber charges booking fees, which can eat away at driver profits.

Uber and Lyft require you have a four-door car that is usually less than a decade old.

The cost of ownership for a 2015 Honda Civic, which is the top recommended car for Uber drivers by auto researcher Kelley Blue Book, is $6,172 annually, or about $118 per week.

Uber and Lyft offer financing programs for drivers to buy or lease vehicles. However, drivers with good credit can often find better deals on their own. For example, Mitchell bought a 2012 Toyota Prius with an auto loan through his credit union rather than use financing from Uber.

Generally, you do not need an additional insurance policy to drive for Uber and Lyft, but it is a legal gray area. Some insurers have dropped policyholders once they've found out they are driving for ride-hailing services.

Both Uber and Lyft provide up to $1 million in liability protection and other insurance benefits when you're driving with passengers.

You can also buy rideshare policies from insurers, but 90 percent of 1,000 drivers polled by The Rideshare Guy blog do not have that coverage.

Regulations are rising for Uber, Lyft and their drivers. Thirty-four states and more than 69 cities have passed legislation governing ride-hailing companies and another six states have enacted legislation mandating minimum insurance requirements.

In New York City, it can take up to three months, 60 hours and $3,000 in fees for drivers to obtain a license from the city's Taxi & Limousine Commission, according to Uber.

Drivers for Uber and Lyft are independent contractors, which means they have to handle their own income taxes and keep tabs on their business expenses. Uber and Lyft track the mileage for drivers, but only when they are carrying passengers.

After expensing the mileage, Mitchell said he owes very little in income taxes for his work with Uber.

Uber launches self-driving cars in Pittsburgh
Uber launches self-driving cars in Pittsburgh

Too good to last?

The future of Uber and Lyft drivers like Mitchell and Angelo is uncertain.

Uber is testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh. John Zimmer, president of Lyft, wrote the that "by 2025, owning a car will go the way of the DVD. Until then, over the next five to 10 years there will be both driver and driverless cars on the road, which we call a hybrid network."

Whatever the future may hold, Mitchell would like to keep driving an Uber until his wife retires in a couple of years.

Angelo is more touch-and-go about Lyft. "I'm all about the feels. If it feels good, I'm going to keep doing it," he said.