The Secret Lives of Uber Drivers – Why People Drive for Uber

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When my brother started driving for Uber full-time a few years ago I became curious about the great range of reasons why people drive for Uber. Here is what I learned.

Full Time

Some drivers, like my brother, drive for Uber as a job. They like to drive. They probably also like to meet new people. But even in this unsurprising group there are surprises.

Fellow travel podcaster Mark Peacock from the Travel Commons podcast told his listeners that he ran into an Uber driver in Chicago who quit his job as a hotel manager to drive Uber because it is less stressful.

You do have to wonder how stressful hotel management is if driving in Chicago traffic is less stressful, but he gave up the late night phone calls, bed bug infestations and the like.

“We Were On a Break”

To prove to the IRS that a contractor is really a contractor, some companies  (like TripAdvisor who I worked for as a contractor) will limit how many months you can work before you have to go away for a few months.

One local Uber driver had been working for a few years doing contract work at Kaiser Permanente in finance. While I was able to use my break from TripAdvisor to travel, this driver used Uber driving as a source of income during his break. He had every expectation that he would be going back to finance In a couple of months.

Side Income

One driver I met was a “stay at home” mom who was no longer staying at home while her kids were in school. She was driving. What she liked about it was the flexibility. If there was an event at school, a sick kid, or a school break, she could just  not turn on the Uber App. No boss to call and get permission.

A different driver I talked to only drives on the weekend. She wanted a better car than she could afford with he job she had so she bought the better car and then works enough on the weekend driving in that car to make the car payments

Startup Funding

I live in Silicon Valley so you might not be surprised that I have run into a few people who were bootstrapping a startup company (funding the startup with their own money). Uber was how they were making money so that they could have the flexibility to work on what they really wanted to during the day.

Some of these are people starting tech companies, but one driver was starting up a fitness business.

Coincidently I heard a recent statistic from airbnb that one in four people who start hosting for airbnb are using the income to fund a new venture or change in career (see Welcoming Strangers – Becoming an Airbnb Host).

Business Networking

Hannah from Adventure Travel Family told me, “We had an Uber driver in Bangkok last week who told us that his other business is importing precious stones and making jewelry in the city. He said he likes driving Uber because he gets to talk to people from all over the world and looks for business contacts to import his jewelry. He then gave us his card and asked us if we would import to the UK. It’s not something we’ll do but it was an interesting ride.”


I have run into one of my neighbors who used to be a city engineer for the city of San Jose but had recently retired. He wasn’t driving so much for side income but because he said, “my wife wanted me out of the house.”

It’s Complicated

Jessica from Independent Travel Cats wrote, “I have a friend Ethan in Albuquerque who started driving for Uber in the past year. He left his full-time job earlier this year due to medical issues that were making it difficult to complete some of his work tasks. He has had a number of open heart surgeries over the past 20 years and the last one has left him with some complications. He filed paperwork and is now eligible for medical benefits and a small income due to his medical disability; however, he can only receive this if he does not work full time. If he works full time or makes over a certain income level, his benefits are revoked. The situation is difficult as the medical disability payments are not enough to pay his rent and bills. So this is why he starting picking up Uber jobs. He is now able to have a lot of control over his work schedule and the amount of money he makes with Uber, so he can make enough to pay his bills but not lose his medical benefits. Not an ideal situation but it is working for him for the time being.”


I have run into a couple of drivers who have a full time job but drive for Uber as part of their daily commute. One worked north of Boston but lived south of Boston. He would get a passenger, often to Boston’s Logan airport, which would mean that while he might still sit in traffic, he would get paid for at least part of the time.

The Uber app now lets a driver indicate where he is trying to get to so that they will not get offered passengers heading in the opposite direction. The driver we had this morning was commuting from San Jose to Oakland and said that getting a passenger let’s him use the car pool lane. He did warn that he has been late to work sometimes because of the side trip of taking a passenger to their destination. This option works best if you start for work early or have a flexible start time.


How did I learn all this? If you want a more interesting ride in Uber, do what I have been doing for the last few years. As soon as you get into the car, ask your driver, “How long have you been driving for Uber?”

It is a simple question but has led to some interesting discussions. It also led to one invitation, on a trip to the San Francisco airport, to the driver’s family home in Oaxaca Mexico.

How About You?

If you see yourself in one of those examples, you can try out driving and see if you like it. You don’t have to quit your current job to give it a try. Maybe on my next ride, it will be you that I am talking to.

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by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.

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