Is using your new car as a taxi really a good idea?
I grew up in New York City which has an extensive public transportation system that covers a significant area. However there were times when waiting for a bus or train were not optimal and then we used taxis or private cabs. These drivers had CB radios in their vehicles, displayed their operator’s license, and had a meter ticking up your fare as you drove to your destination. Occasionally, some enterprising individual using his own personal vehicle would cruse the bus and taxi routes offering his car for hire. These ‘gypsy cabs’ were illegal and you always took a chance when getting into these stranger’s cars. It was like paying to be a hitchhiker. But if you didn’t have the money to pay for a real taxi, these mostly harmless entrepreneurs were there to fill the gap. Most of them were just trying to earn a living, albeit in a dodgy manner.
As I stated in a prior blog, owning a car is expensive. If you have car payments and full coverage insurance, you still have to factor in vehicle maintenance and fuel costs. One way or another if you want to keep your car on the road, you need to have some way of paying for it all. Enter Uber and Lyft.
Uber (founded 2009) and Lyft (founded 2012 and pronounced lift, get it?) are companies that make ridesharing available through downloadable smartphone apps. You simply download the app, request the car, and the Uber or Lyft drivers show up in their personal vehicles to drive you to your destination, much to the dismay of taxi and cab companies. Unlike the gypsy cabs of yore, these drivers are registered with their respective companies, and all payments are made via credit card to Lyft or Uber using your smartphone upon reaching your destination. You may opt to tip the driver in cash, or you can just include the tip (if any) in the credit card charge. This is all great for the passenger, but what if you’re the owner of the car?
Whether you choose to work for either Uber or Lyft or even both of them, you will need to meet some basic criteria.
You’ll need to display signage indicating that you are a driver for Lyft, Uber or both, and you’ll need to follow all the rules of the road. Tickets for speeding, not wearing seat belts, transporting children not in car seats, etc are the responsibility of the driver and will negate any income earned from ridesharing.
- Driver’s license
- Vehicle registration
- Personal vehicle insurance
- Driver photo
- 2004 or newer
- Fewer than 350,000 miles
- 4 doors
- 5-8 seats, including the driver’s
- No limousines
Both of these companies do have liability insurance that covers the driver and rider during the trip with certain restrictions and conditions. Unless you have that rare rideshare-friendly policy, the only time you can count on your personal insurance is when you are driving for strictly personal reasons and getting into a accident while hiring out your car could end up costing you big time. All personal car insurance policies contain a clause that specifically excludes using your vehicle for commercial activities. Your personal insurance company may deny your claim as a result and refuse to pay. In a case like this, the Lyft company will cover you with their insurance, BUT they have a hefty $2500 deductible that you will be required to pay. Similarly Uber has a $1000 deductible. The ONLY way to be fully protected while using your car for rideshare services is to carry a commercial insurance policy which will run you $5000 and up.
The Passenger from Hell
As an independent contractor providing rides for your clients you may encounter many people of questionable character. Unlike a traditional taxi, there is no Plexiglas window dividing the front and back of the vehicle. You are alone in your vehicle with who-knows-what type of person and are opening yourself up to all sorts of potential verbal and physical abuse. There are numerous accounts of both Uber and Lyft drivers being attacked by the passenger from Hell. For this reason it is a good idea to have dashcam recording devices in your vehicle for your own personal protection. Obtain a GPS unit to track and record your comings and goings. If your passenger is involved in illegal activity, this may clear you with the police, and protect you from legal action. Some of these people may try to get you to break the law, like transporting their young children without a car seat. Intoxicated passengers may vomit in your car. You name it, it can happen so make sure there is some record other than just your word vs. their word. Also inform any passengers the moment they enter your car that the trip is being recorded for safety reasons because failure to inform them that they are being recorded may get you into hot water. If they are resistant to that idea, they are free to hire another car, but if they have nothing to hide, they should be understanding. Also, keep conversations to a minimum and avoid personal information or hot topics. You are a driver, not their friend. Additionally, these people rate your performance and bad ratings could reduce the number of future fares.
Where am I?
A passenger not used to driving may tell you to drive to a certain road and then make a turn which would be the wrong way up a one way street. You may be totally unfamiliar with the area and have no idea where you are going. Speed limit signs might not be obvious. Having a GPS unit in your car will help to avoid these situations when driving in unfamiliar areas.
The Tax Man
Keep in mind that income is INCOME and is taxable! You will be required to track all of your income and expenses and will be expected to reconcile these come tax day. Many of the items you need for operating your car as a rideshare vehicle may qualify as legitimate business expenses so contact a certified public accountant to learn what may or may be covers, then keep records and receipts. Always remember that your money is YOUR money and you want to keep as much of it as possible
I made HOW much?
Although it seems like using your own personal vehicle as a rideshare sounds like a great idea on the surface, when you break down the costs, it’s not really worth the hassle in my opinion. According to the IRS, using a vehicle for commercial purposes averages about 54¢ per mile.
This breaks down to:
- Fuel 12¢
- Depreciation 24¢
- Repairs and Maintenance 9¢
- Insurance and Paperwork 9¢
Considering this, at best case, you’ll be earning about minimum wage for all the trouble you’ll be going through. Wouldn’t flipping burgers at McDonald’s be easier? As always I wish you success and happiness.