Essential tips for new Uber drivers in New Zealand

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City Church Christchurch

Want to be an Uber driver?

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Updated: 4 January 2020
By Ps Ysrial Clunies-Ross

I remember as a young child riding around in taxis with my mother who didn’t drive at all. In fact, the one time she did drive, it was like a leaping frog, lurching as she tried to manage the use of the clutch.

I always loved the taxi experience. They were always late model vehicles, they smelled nice and had the new car smell. The drivers were always dressed tidily, the cars were clean and the ride was smooth, with soft cornering and smooth acceleration and braking.

My brother and I would say, “as smooth as a taxi.”

Driving for Uber was something I had been considering for a little while. In fact, I had partly signed up to become a driver partner - but, without a vehicle that met the requirements, I had never followed through with the application process.

Being employed full time, there was little need for any other employment; but after having reduced work hours I began to look at different part-time options.

With an already busy and varying work schedule, I soon realised I would need something with flexible hours. I began to consider driving for Uber as a real option, knowing there were some obstacles I would need to overcome like licensing and the purchase of a new vehicle.

In this article.

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Getting started.

Being over 21 years old and holding a full New Zealand driver license made me eligible for the application process. I would also need to apply for a Passenger endorsement for my license, a process recently made easier thanks to Uber, in that you no longer have to attend any courses or re-sit any driving tests.

You are required to pay an application fee, submit a completed medical test, and they also carry out a police background check. All up this costs around $400 for a five year P endorsement application to drive small passenger vehicles.

My application was processed and after about three weeks it arrived in the mail; I was now technically allowed to drive small passenger vehicles. I immediately uploaded all relevant documents to Uber.

Car traveling

Choosing the right car.

At this stage I didn’t have a vehicle but I used the time waiting for my P endorsement to arrive securing vehicle finance and looking at vehicles. I set myself a budget of $10,000. I wanted to buy a vehicle as a cash buyer because it might give me some bargaining power and I could also have the option to purchase a car from a private seller.

I looked for a finance company with the lowest interest rate and found a company online offering a 10% rate, which was lower than most. It was a very simple process which was approved a few short hours later.

With a budget of $10,000 and taking into consideration Uber’s requirements that a vehicle must not be more than ten years old and must have four doors with the ability to carry four passengers, I added my own criteria.

I also had to consider that if this venture failed I’d be left with a car that still needed to be paid off. I started looking for vehicles with the least mileage and the latest year of manufacture. I also considered different makes and models. I looked into hybrids and electric vehicles but these fell well outside of my price range. I also didn’t really want a Toyota Prius, which seems to be the more popular vehicle for Uber drivers - whilst this type of car will save on fuel costs it’s not the car I’d want to be stuck with if the venture didn’t work out. I also wanted a vehicle that was roomy and was suitable for long cruises (for personal use), looked nice and felt nice to be in.

I narrowed down my search to a couple of types of cars that I would like to own and use for Uber: Toyota Corolla, Toyota Camry, Nissan Pulsar and Nissan Altima, which all fell into the price range. The Mazda Atenza, Mazda 6 and Honda Accord were also options that I liked but were more expensive. I chose to avoid the Holden Cruze, Ford Focus and Ford Mondeo which were nice looking cars and were reasonably priced but they had poor mechanical reviews.

I used Trade Me, Autotrader and Turners auction, and visited the local car dealers to see what the different car models actually looked like to get an idea of size and looks. I finally found a car on Trade Me which was being sold by a car company. It was a late model Nissan Altima ex-lease vehicle, but it was situated in Auckland and I am in Christchurch.

I emailed them and made an offer, which was counter-offered. I accepted this, subject to a car inspection. I organised an independent car inspection for $150 and was happy that it was mechanically sound. The car dealer also offered finance at a better rate, which I accepted.

It was going to be $1500 to transport the vehicle to Christchurch, but I opted to fly to Auckland and drive it back, which cost a plane ticket, a ferry ticket, a tank and a half of gas and my time - saving over a thousand dollars.

Before picking up the car, I organised commercial insurance through State Insurance. I took the replacement hire vehicle option, which was about a third of the premium, and also got indemnity cover. In hindsight, I will only renew the commercial cover and I won’t bother renewing the extras.

The Altima came with a 12-month WOF but to carry public passengers the vehicle must pass a COF. The test costs the same price and replaces the WOF check (which it passed) but only lasts for six months. I had to put red stickers on the doors of the car stating that it had child locks on it.

Car dashboard and speedometers

My first ride as an Uber driver.

All documents including driver license, COF, insurance and vehicle registration must be kept up to date to be able to use the Uber app. With these uploaded to Uber and with car payments and insurance payments, plus the expenses of getting set up now putting financial demand on me, I didn’t want to drag out the process.

It was time to drive!

My first ride was a fail because I didn’t fully understand what I was doing. When I thought I was going to pick someone up, I actually drove to their drop off point! I carefully monitored each step on my next ride and haven’t had a problem since.

I also decided to purchase a Bluetooth hands-free earpiece so I could hear the navigation instructions from the app. However, because my phone doubles as a music player, I tried driving with the navigation voice disabled and following the map with my eyes only. I have found this to be a better option, making the handsfree earpiece redundant.

Getting help from Uber support.

It was helpful having a Greenlight Hub in Christchurch, albeit for the short time it was here after I signed up. I needed to make a couple of stops into the office and each time they solved my issues.

I have had a mixture of positive and negative experiences with phone support but usually things run very smoothly through the app without the need for extra support.

The Uber experience.

Uber wants its passengers to have the best experience whenever their services are being used. While there is no direct system in place to monitor individual drivers, the riders’ experience is reflected through ratings on the app. Riders can leave a comment and choose from a range of the available preset compliments.

If a driver’s rating falls below a certain threshold they will be disabled from using the app. There is also a feature which regularly requires drivers to take a selfie to make sure they are the actual driver.

Ratings are an important feature for the drivers, along with their acceptance rate and their cancellation rates, which all count towards Uber’s algorithm.

Because good ratings are important, there are some things that Uber recommends to help improve your ratings. They suggest making conversation, providing bottles of water and other refreshments and keeping the vehicle clean and tidy.

When riders get into my car, I want them to have the best experience they can have. This is not just because Uber recommends it, but because I am providing a service which goes beyond the company and speaks about me as a person. This is easy to facilitate if you understand a little bit about hospitality and hosting, just like in your home when you have visitors. Setting the right environment where people feel welcome and relaxed is important, even if it’s only for a short period of time.

I set the temperature to heat or cool as needed, depending on the weather. I always have music playing and have premade playlists on Spotify - one for daytime riders and the other for night time. I always dress tidily and keep the car clean inside and out.

When people get in, I greet them with a friendly smile and I will get out of the car if they have extra bags to help them load and unload them.

I drive to the regulations to help riders feel safe, and I make the ride as timely and smooth as possible, using Uber’s navigation system (unless the passenger wants to take a different route).

I don’t put too much pressure on drumming up a conversation, but will engage with riders if they are looking for a chat. Occasionally I will hit off a great chat, but I find that most passengers are happy to just sit back and get to their destination.

Car driving on street

Difficult passengers.

I rarely run into difficult passengers but when I do, I handle it as best as I can, keeping hospitality and service in mind.

Some riders can be rude and a bit brash, particularly when driving late Friday and Saturday nights when they’ve had a bit too much to drink. But for the most part, they are well-mannered and behave.

Give Uber driving a go!

Deciding to drive for Uber has been well worth the experience. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to meet lots of nice people from all different walks of life and I’ve become more familiar with the different roads, areas and businesses out there in Christchurch.

For me it was a low-risk opportunity in terms of financial investment and I also get a nice car out of it.

The income varies depending on the demand during the hours you are driving, and I have found the income to be in excess of New Zealand’s minimum wage after tax and expenses.

The most attractive thing about rideshare driving for most drivers is the flexibility of hours, and this is also true for me. If you are considering driving for Uber there is some small risk and small obstacles to overcome but the process is very easy. Why not give it a go?