Uber and Lyft will make their long-awaited entrance into Western New York on Thursday and when they do, they're going to need drivers.
The ride-hailing services, which use apps to connect drivers with customers looking for a ride, have already received thousands of applications from would-be drivers across the state.
But there's plenty to know before you hop in the car. Drivers will need to think about insurance, prepare for the companies to take a good cut of the earnings and be ready to be rated by customers.
And don't forget about taxes.
Here's what you need to know if you plan to join the ranks at Lyft or Uber, or if you just want to hail a ride.
How it works
A passenger requests a ride through a ride-hailing app. Once the trip is accepted by a driver, the rider will see an estimated time for when the driver will arrive. They'll also be notified when the driver is almost there. The app will show the driver's name, vehicle type and license plate number. Riders can choose to sit up front or in the backseat, and can enter their destination before or during the ride.
After arriving at the destination, the fare is automatically calculated and charged. Both the driver and rider will be asked to rate each other on a scale from one to five stars. Drivers may not accept ride requests from riders with low ratings, while riders may decline trips with low-rated drivers.
Cars used for Uber and Lyft must be in good condition, have four doors and five seats with working seatbelts. Before you can drive, your car will have to be inspected either at an Uber-approved facility or by a Lyft mentor.
Uber vehicles must be 2002 or newer and can't ever have been salvaged. Lyft vehicles must be 2005 or newer. Your name must be on the car's insurance policy.
Drivers must be at least 21 years old with a valid U.S. driver's license and one year of driving experience. Drivers who are under 23 years old, however, need three years of driving experience to drive for Uber. You'll also need a current smartphone to run the ride-hailing app.
You have the right to refuse any rider. By law, however, you must always accept service animals, even if you're unsure if they're really service animals.
Go to Uber's website or Lyft's website and upload your driver's license, plate number, photo, vehicle registration, inspection and proof of auto insurance. Both companies will ask for your social security number and run a background check, which will look for a criminal record and review your driving history.
The background checks will look for things such as DUIs, driving-related convictions, criminal offenses and moving violations. Drivers are allowed no more than three minor moving violations in the past three years. Checks for DUIs go back at least 15 years.
If you don't pass your background check, you'll receive a copy of the report with instructions on how to contest the results.
This is where things get sticky.
"From the time the driver turns on the ride-sharing app to the time they turn it off, there is no coverage under their personal auto policy," said Sheila Guenette, vice president of the personal insurance division at Haylor, Freyer & Coon, headquartered in Syracuse.
That's because driving for a ride-hailing company is considered a commercial use, which is excluded from personal policies.
Uber and Lyft do provide insurance that will cover you while you're driving a rider, but the amount of coverage decreases when you're waiting for fares, driving to pick fares up, or returning after dropping them off.
The New York State Insurance Department is developing endorsements drivers can purchase in order to stay covered while the ride-hailing app is turned on, but those are not yet available. Endorsements cost less than $100 per year in other states, according to Alex Chrzanowski, owner of Chrzanowski Agency in the Town of Tonawanda.
When you're ready to drive, open the app and go online. Your phone will beep and flash when you're matched with a request from a rider. Tap to accept the trip and you'll see where the rider is, where they need to go and get turn-by-turn directions to get to their location. Once you pick your rider up, you'll get GPS directions to their destination, but you can take any route you'd like.
With Uber at least, you won't see where the rider wants to go until you accept the fare. You can technically cancel the trip, but that will adversely affect your driver ratings.
Once the ride is through, you'll be prompted to rate the rider on the app, and the rider will be prompted to rate you.
Both the Uber and Lyft apps automatically charge the rider's credit card on file, and there is no cash exchanged. You'll see how much money you've earned for the trip, and can see a tally of how much you've earned for the day and week.
Both Uber and Lyft calculate fares using a base rate plus time or distance (or both) for each trip, but neither company has yet disclosed how much that base fare or additional rate will be. Uber takes a 25 percent cut of a driver's earnings; Lyft takes from 20 percent to 25 percent.
Both companies now allow tipping.
Earnings automatically transfer to your bank account every week. With Uber, you can sign up for Instant Pay and cash out instantly up to 5 times a day. You'll be charged 50 cents per cash out if you use your personal debit card.
Lyft claims drivers in Buffalo can make up to $20 per hour. It's not clear whether the company's calculation of a $20-per-hour rate factors in the 25 percent fee that goes to the company.
With both companies, you'll pay tolls upfront and the app will reimburse you. Rates are higher during peak time. The NFTA charges a $3.50 fee for drivers dropping riders at the airport, which is passed on to the consumer. Because of that fee, Lyft has said it will not service the airport. Uber has not yet been reached for comment regarding the fee.
Ride-share drivers are independent contractors and don't have any taxes withheld from their pay by the federal or state government. You'll have to file a 1099 form each year if you earn $600 or more using the app during the calendar year.