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Discount Diva: How to perfect your Uber profits

Sandy Estabrook is a 75-year-old Uber driver who splits his time between Florida and his wife’s hometown of Wilson. He finds driving for Uber and Lyft the perfect hobby for a retired person because it gets him out of the house, he gets to meet new people and he earns a few bucks to boot.

He could earn more money if he were more aggressive and worked at night, he said, but he likes working during the day and is always home by dinner. And he has learned how to make the most of his time when he’s out on the road.

“The bottom line to making money: Be on the road at peak periods and in the higher paying zones, which fluctuate,” he wrote in an email.

Judging from what I’ve heard from readers, there are an awful lot of people in Western New York curious about driving for ride-hailing companies.

I’ve also received mail from current drivers who are either pleased, unhappy or indifferent about their current gigs with Uber and Lyft.

If you fall into any of those categories, chances are you’d like to know everything you can about how to earn as much money as possible as a driver.

Lucky for you, I got the scoop straight from the source – drivers who have perfected their game in other markets and those who have mastered the particular ins and outs in Western New York.

• Driving apps increase prices when demand is high and the supply of drivers is low. The more the customer pays, the more the driver makes.

During peak times, such as when the bars close on weekends, turn your app off for 10 to 15 minutes. The other drivers will get the first pings and, when they’re gone, surge pricing will kick in. You’ll make more for your trip than the drivers who jumped at the first customers. You also can log into the passenger app instead of logging out to drive up demand.

• Keep tabs on events happening in town. Talk to hotel staff about upcoming conventions and keep an eye on Gusto so you know where the hot spots are.

• Drivers tend to stay away from the airport. But if you want to try it or there aren’t many other options, at least time it so you pull up when a flight has landed.

• Take the weather into consideration. Are you more likely to walk a few blocks on a nice day or a stormy one? A sudden rain, icy temperatures or unexpected cold will have passengers flocking. Be ready for them.

• Don’t count out the suburbs. Drivers tend to hang out downtown to pick up fares, but many drivers have found success in the the 'burbs.

You’ll probably wait longer between customers, but the trips are usually longer than in the city, there’s less competition and some drivers even say the tips are better.

• If this is a part-time gig for you (and most drivers agree you shouldn’t rely on it for your main income) choose the most profitable hours.

That usually means the weekends, especially weekend nights and early mornings when the night life is in swing – unless there’s a special event happening.

• Run the Uber and Lyft apps at the same time when it’s slow. Most drivers – even cab drivers – do this. Why miss a customer because you chose to open the wrong app at the wrong time?

• For the best tips, keep your car clean (seat covers are a must), drive safely and be polite. Those three factors will net you more money than having the right air freshener or offering bottled water.

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