Ride The Ride-sharing Wave

By Catherine McNulty

September 21, 2016 5 min read

Less expensive than taxis and less crowded than public transportation, ride-sharing apps are all the rage right now. More and more people are turning to Uber and Lyft to get where they need to go. If you have a car and a bit of time on your hands, riding this trend wave could be a golden financial opportunity. So what does it take to become a ride-sharing driver?

Uber and Lyft are the most popular and most extensive ride-sharing apps, but they are far from the only ones. Others include Split, which operates in the Washington, D.C., area, and Via, which accepts a variety of commuter benefit debit cards. And Curb uses professional taxi and for-hire drivers. Because of their popularity, we'll be focusing on what it takes to drive for Uber and Lyft.

In case you've just woken up from a long nap and are unfamiliar, here's how these two apps work: You first install the app on your phone, create an account and input credit card information to store. Then you select your current location, input your destination in the app, and an available nearby driver is chosen for your ride. The app shows how many minutes away the driver is. Once you're picked up, you sit back and enjoy the ride. At the end of your ride, your credit card is charged. That's it!

One of the things most people love about the process is convenience. The ride comes to you! There's no standing on the street corner and waving desperately at passing cabs, "pick me, pick me!" No cash to handle. So that's what you do as a passenger, but how do you get to be a driver?

Both Uber and Lyft are always actively seeking drivers. Demand for rides is superhigh, and sometimes to customers it seems as if there aren't enough drivers on the road. It should go without saying that drivers need an Android or iPhone. Otherwise how would you access the apps? Drivers must be 21 or older to drive for both companies, and each company requires a minimum number of years of driving experience.

If you fit these basic qualifications, next is passing a background check, the details of which are available on the companies' respective websites. Social Security numbers are required for the background check. Before you go to that trouble, though, know that a DUI or felony or assault charges will immediately disqualify you from driving.

The companies have similar vehicle requirements for drivers. Both want four-door passenger vehicles with room for four passengers, excluding the driver -- basically, a sedan. The age of your car also factors in. Uber accepts models from the year 2001 or newer, while Lyft wants a model 2004 or newer. However, certain jurisdictions include their own rules regarding a car's age. For example, if you want to drive Uber in Las Vegas, you'll need a model year 2006 or newer. Both Uber and Lyft list the location-based restrictions on their websites.

If your car meets these basic qualifications, it will then need to pass an inspection. You will take your car to a specified location, so an authorized Uber or Lyft inspector can verify your car is up to snuff. What are they looking for? Your car must be fully functional and free from body damage. That includes all of the lights (interior and exterior), the horn, the doors and the brakes. Lyft does require its drivers to go on a practice drive with a company representative. This is a great way to get information and tips on what it's like to be a driver.

You must have car insurance to drive with either company. However, you should examine your insurance policy, for it may not cover your car while you are on duty. What's great is, Uber and Lyft both offer supplemental insurance that you can buy when you are actively driving.

The best way to know whether your car is qualified to drive with Uber or Lyft (or both) is to sign up, get it inspected and see what happens. If you pass the test, know that qualifying is not the end of it. You'll need to maintain your car so it will continue to be of Uber or Lyft caliber. Consult your owners manual and make sure you are getting basic maintenance, like routine oil changes, done in a timely manner.

And maintaining your car is not just mechanical. If you were paying for a ride, would you want to sit in a messy car? Or a smelly car? Of course not. Once you're on the road, never let mess accumulate, and make sure you're vacuuming the floors and seats and cleaning the windows regularly. A clean car equals a pleasant experience, which will most likely equal a nice tip. After all, that's what you're driving for.

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