A month’s pay in one week: South Florida Uber and Lyft drivers explain how they capitalize on the spring break rush despite ‘a little sand’ and ‘crappy music’

A month’s pay in one week: South Florida Uber and Lyft drivers explain how they capitalize on the spring break rush despite ‘a little sand’ and ‘crappy music’
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Trent T. stands by his car
Trent T. pulled in $8,200 in one week this spring break, mostly doing private rides.

  • Spring break in South Florida has been profitable but less chaotic for some rideshare drivers this year.
  • Miami Beach’s ad campaign breaking up with spring break may have contributed to fewer visitors.
  • Some drivers told BI they target certain areas and avoid congestion to maximize earnings.

Trent T., 50, remembers horror stories from past spring breaks in South FloridaUber and Lyft riders taking drugs in his car, damaging his seats, and drunkenly cursing him out. Not to mention rides that would take three hours along South Beach to go four miles amid nightmarish tourist traffic.

This year, it’s been a little more civil, even though he’s seen some of the typical bad spring break behavior.

This spring break has been profitable, Trent said, without as much chaos. Traffic isn’t as consistently bad, beaches aren’t as crowded, and riders are mostly respectful. He’s also prioritized private rides — which sometimes pay close to $1,000 — over beach trips.

Still, this year’s spring break had its downsides. A group of kids tried to steal his iPad. A random guy almost forced girls who booked him for a private ride into a different car. A group of spring breakers tried to fit 10 people in his six-passenger car and resisted when he wouldn’t let them in. And on some nights, it’s impossible to move his car.

“I’m not a big confrontation type of guy, so I won’t say I let people run over me, but if somebody’s cussing me out or whatever, I’m not going to punch the guy,” Trent told Business Insider.

“The traffic’s brutal. You’ll get normally a $30, three-mile ride,” Trent added. “It was a Thursday night when I was there. I got a trip request that was $41 for 1.1 miles, which is pretty good, but it took me 37 minutes to get to the person, and he was only a fourth of a mile away. So that trip took me almost an hour and a half to go four miles full.”

The downtick in traffic compared to previous years may be partly because of Miami Beach’s recent ad campaign telling travelers to follow curfews, adhere to security searches, stay off beaches at night, and expect arrests for drug possession and violence. Two people were fatally shot during last year’s spring break, leading Miami Beach to implement emergency measures for the third year in a row. Police made 573 arrests in Miami Beach last spring break and confiscated over 100 guns, per The Wall Street Journal.

Last year between January and March, 37.9 million people visited Florida, many to the beaches of South Florida, which in past years has been somewhat of a gold mine for drivers. For some drivers, spring break is their ticket to a vacation of their own, but for others, the spring break slowdown has thrown their earnings for a loop.

BI spoke to nearly two dozen Uber and Lyft drivers during spring break in Miami and Fort Lauderdale about how the past few weeks have been for their wallets and well-being. Many asked to use only their first names for fear of professional repercussions.

Many, like Jared S., 27, say they don’t actively seek out spring breakers, though sometimes spring break rides can be profitable.

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“I was in Palm Beach Gardens for The Classic, and in those five days, I made a month’s worth of earnings from rides in a week,” he said, referring to the golf tour that many came to watch for spring break.

Others like Juan, who recently immigrated from Cuba and drives around Fort Lauderdale and Miami, said people are much more respectful this year than last year, which has led to better tips. One week, he said he made over $2,000 driving tourists around, and he said he’s gotten some very profitable airport rides. Other weeks though, his earnings can drop to $1,000.

Breaking up with spring break

Mike McGrath, 57, is glad spring break is more under control this year. The Uber and Lyft driver, who previously worked in the scrap metal industry, recently moved to Fort Lauderdale from Miami, noting how spring break used to be profitable but aggravating to drive.

This year, he said rides have been very low-paying, and he’s struggled to find strategies for getting higher-paying rides. He said the rates for some rides have been “diabolical” — including some by Miami Beach that would pay just a few dollars for nearly an hour in traffic. He’s had to deal with rude passengers, people passing out, and screaming matches.

During the height of spring break in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, he drives 80 rides a week and makes between $500 and $800. He’s tried to be pickier, but sometimes he will wait half an hour without a ride over $10.

“In general, I try to stay away from the beaches during the day because a lot of people get sand all over the car or get it wet, so it’s an aggravation I try to avoid,” McGrath said.

David Lowell, 68, who runs multiple Facebook groups for rideshare drivers in the Miami area, agrees that “many spring breakers are trouble.” He said over the last 10 years, he’s done hundreds of spring break rides, and he said many have been rough, whether it’s driving with drunk passengers, cleaning up messes, or calming down fights. He said while he’ll often take spring breakers to and from the airport, he will only venture to spring break hotspots “if the money is right.”

“When passengers to the beach on a Saturday at 1 or 2 p.m., people don’t want to take that ride because it’s an hour in and an hour out with traffic,” Lowell said.” A lot of drivers will say, ‘I have to also listen to crappy music.’ Nine out of 10 drivers are like I’m staying away. The smarter ones, the money makers, those are the ones that say, ‘I don’t care about a little sand or crappy music.’ You got to know the back roads, shortcuts.”

Renee, in her 50s, pulls in $350 to $400 some days in Miami by, in many cases, avoiding spring breakers. To supplement her full-time technology job, she drives eight to ten hours on her off days for Lyft and Uber and four to eight hours on some workdays. She typically only accepts higher-paying rides that avoid congested areas.

“When I drive during spring break, I try to drive in areas that are less known to be busy because all drivers try to go to the beach, or they try to go to downtown Miami, and then they try to drive because they want to take the surges,” Renee said. “When you take a situation where you have a bunch of drivers, and all of them are trying to get rides in the beach area, then there’s going to be a deficit for certain areas.”

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Capitalizing on spring break crowds

Renee said maximizing her earnings during spring break comes down to knowing when to be in certain areas. Though longer rides are often more profitable, she said she takes short rides by the beach to make $50 doing 10 quick rides instead of $20 doing two longer rides in traffic.

“I basically get tips on almost all of my rides because I’m very knowledgeable of the area and I get people places quickly,” Renee said. “On the beach, I know all the shortcuts.”

John D., 41, often makes trips to Miami from West Palm Beach about 70 miles away. He said driving around Miami Beach is a “wild card,” as sometimes he gets big tips. Like Renee, he sometimes avoids airports and other hotspots where queues can be almost an hour.

“During the winter, people flood into Florida because of the weather, and you have to try to capitalize on that as much as you can,” John said, adding spring break is more tame this year.

Hiedi Handford, 57, said she doesn’t target spring breakers anymore. She tries to catch them in the mornings for airport runs, but she typically stays away from the beaches and focuses on rides around Fort Lauderdale. She averages $20 to $25 an hour, compared to a few dollars less sitting in beach traffic, which helps her supplement her income from her medicine consulting business. She’s prioritized driving for a luxury car service that pays more consistently.

A few weeks ago, she said traffic was so rough that drivers were stuck motionless for a few minutes at a time. She said she had to cancel rides from spring breakers who she anticipated would make a mess in her new car.

Still, she enjoys driving spring breakers around because she can “be a mom” by showing them around Fort Lauderdale and educating them on how to stay safe. She said she has avoided the wild spring break driver stories because she “commands her car.”

“I like spring break because I get to share my community and where I live, and I’m really glad we have more of them in Fort Lauderdale because then I don’t have to go so far to do that because I enjoy engaging with them,” Handford said. “I really don’t believe that the problems they had on South Beach were from the kids coming in for spring break. They want to come here, have a great time, usually get hammered, and fall face first in the sand.”

Not relying on spring break

Mark, 64, who lives by Delray Beach 50 miles north of Miami and moved from Tennessee, said he hasn’t seen much additional income from spring break. Because he accepts nearly every ride, he usually gets rides away from touristy areas, averaging over $900 weekly. He wishes he could have capitalized more on the spring break rush, and he said halfway through spring break, he began changing his strategy to focus more on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale.

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“Normally, I get a new trip in two minutes or less from when I’m doing my drop off; that’s the normal pattern that I have noticed,” Mark said. “When I am put in an area where there are not a lot of drivers, I start getting new trips when I’m five, six minutes away from dropping my current passenger off, so in my head, they’re having to give it to me because there’s not enough drivers there.”

For some drivers, the consistency of clients is more economically stable than relying on random rides. Jane, a frequent ride-hailing passenger who spends about $1,000 on Ubers a month, relies on drivers like Lowell, the Facebook group founder, for meeting clients or getting to appointments. Lowell said these regular clients give him more stability during slower periods of the year.

Marian O., a Boca Raton-area student who has no car, said she takes Ubers to and from work as a monitor technician. She said rides are about $20 each way, but she justifies it as she has few expenses as a college student.

“The transportation is not reliable, and if I do take it, I may not get to work on time, or I’ll have to go much earlier,” she said, referring to public transit.

But for those newer to driving, accepting any ride is important for stable earnings. Eliezer, an Uber driver for two years who moved to Miami Beach from Nicaragua, said that even though he predominantly drives around the beach, he hasn’t seen earnings increase substantially in March.

He aims to make $1,200 a week, focusing on longer trips, and drives 60 to 70 hours weekly. He’s often driving in the traffic of downtown Miami or into quieter neighborhoods. He wishes he would get more earnings from Uber, which he said is “not the best job in the world,” but he’s satisfied with his pay as he can afford an apartment comfortably.

“I was trying to do something different when I started driving, and I didn’t want to have a boss,” Eliezer said.

For Edgar, 60, who recently moved from Venezuela to Miami, it’s better to accept more rides to better understand the city and build his ratings. He said he drives 50 hours a week to support his family, though this was the only work he could find in the US, as he couldn’t find sustainable income in the automotive spare parts business. He suspects this is the story for many immigrants, as he’s seen many more people who only speak Spanish on the road.

“The earnings are not enough, which is what I don’t like, especially this year,” Edgar said. “I feel like my earnings are lower than they have been before.”

Read the original article on Business Insider


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