So…How’d I Start Uber’ing in the City, You ask?

Drive with Uber NYC

By now, a few friends have come to realize that I’m driving for Uber, and about once a week I get a question in my inbox about how I started. So here’s a detailed 11-step breakdown about the process… at least how it went for me here in New York:

Step 1 – MAKE THE DECISION that you’re actually going to Uber!

Though I signed up in September, I had the first inkling to drive for Uber back in April. I was a month away from finishing up my Master’s thesis and had just received word that I was not admitted into the PhD program at my university. So, I was going to need to do something in the way of earning income. Only, I got the idea in my head that maybe I could spend the time post-grad school working independently as a freelance writer while developing some of the creative ideas that have been swirling around my mind for years. That would mean finding a source of income that wouldn’t be too demanding but would yield a substantial amount of cash flow to meet my monthly budget. Back in the spring, I would only take Uber as a passenger but so often, maybe once a week. My boyfriend, on the other hand, would Uber two, sometimes three times in one day. So, when I mentioned to him that I might be interested in driving, he pulled together my quick and easy “Uber business plan.” Consisting of projected costs to get/maintain a car, the plan was a hypothetical guide to help me to see how simple it could be to start driving. The sooner you make the decision to actually SIGN UP to drive, the sooner you will be logging on to receive some fares!

Step 2 – FOLLOW THE STEPS that Uber bullet points on their website for folks interested in driving.

While I didn’t start the process in April when I had the initial thought, I did spend the next few months constantly mulling over the idea (in between job searches that I felt only lukewarm about) while looking at the step-by-step guide on the Drive Uber NYC website. See, the more people that sign up to drive, the more money Uber as a company makes, so they make it seem SUPER convenient to follow the process until you are licensed. To go a step further, if you have the time to actually visit the offices (in Manhattan or Long Island City) to inquire about driving, there are Uber representatives who will answer as many questions you have in person. I suggest going to the Chelsea office during late morning  – ideally – (however, don’t drive unless you are prepared to shell out nearly $30 in parking), but whatever works best. You can always email them for more information as well; Uber loves replying to your email then asking you to submit feedback on how well they answered your question!

Step 3 – CONVERT YOUR LICENSE to class E.

Most regular drivers in New York have a class D license. To tell the truth, I don’t know the difference between any of the classes of driver’s licenses, but once I found out that I had to convert mine to a class E, I went to the DMV immediately to get it done. There are only two DMVs I deal with in Manhattan, the one near Bowling Green at the bottom of the island and the one on 30th Street because it stays open until 6pm. Even walking into the DMV on 30th Street at a quarter of 6pm on a Tuesday, I was amazed at the five minute wait to see the customer service rep!

Step 4 – SIGN UP FOR A SIX HOUR DEFENSIVE DRIVING COURSE at the Uber office.

It wasn’t until late June that I actually took the first official step I would need to become an Uber driver. For New Yorkers that step is getting a Taxi & Limousine Commission or TLC License (along with your class E driver’s license) before you can even qualify for becoming an Uber driver. During the summer, Uber and the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, were at odds because the Mayor wanted to put a cap on how many new drivers would be allowed to receive a TLC license until 2016. His rationale, on the surface level, was that Uber is encouraging so many people to put cars on the road that the city needs to conduct a study on the effects of thousands of new drivers and traffic conditions in the city. It was in the news for weeks, and I wasn’t sure, since I had decided to finally take the steps to get my license, if I would actually be granted one. Nevertheless, I showed up for the free six hour Defensive Driving class at the Uber Manhattan office and got inundated with facts and tips regarding safe driving, receiving my Defensive Driving certificate that same day.

Step 5 – SUBMIT A TLC APPLICATION ONLINE and pay the fee to receive an appointment.

Here’s where the process started to get a bit hairy and convoluted (even with all the websites and Uber reps providing information). But long story short, you have to complete an application online and pay a fee (one of many) in order to get an appointment to bring your application to the TLC Commission in Long Island City (LIC). Apparently, doing this preliminary step online is supposed to save you some time in the long run, but I wasn’t willing to find out otherwise. There was a very simple application, but it definitely requires you to have the class E license in order to submit the Application for a New TLC License in person. Once I completed the online portion on June 30th, I received an email to bring the documents to the TLC Commission on July 8th. The application, as well as the confirmation of the TLC appointment, had to be printed along with the other documents that are required to get a TLC license (Uber offers to print the documents for you if you come into one of their offices). At the TLC Commission in LIC, there will be a couple of hours of waiting on the que, so bring a good book or make sure your phone is fully charged to scroll through FB or play Candy Crush.

Step 6 – HAVE CASH AVAILABLE… (or a credit card) for all the fees that need to be paid.

I don’t remember if I needed to pay another fee once I actually got to TLC on July 8th, but I definitely had to pay for the fingerprints and urine analysis that needed to accompany the new license application that afternoon. The prints and UA were a nominal fee, but the Wheelchair Accessibility Vehicle (WAV) workshop, which was (unexpectedly) also needed, was an additional $75 I had to come up with in order to fulfill my requirement to get a TLC license. While I used a credit card or debit card to pay the fees at the TLC Commission and the urine analysis lab, the WAV workshop only deals in cash. I chose to take the class at a location deep in Brooklyn, and the three hours flew by. But, I was not allowed a seat in the class until I found an ATM somewhere in the hood to get hard cash to pay for my certificate. So, that’s definitely a point to note if you plan on taking the class.

Step 7 – WAIT it out!

Once you’ve finally decided that you’re going to drive with Uber, have your license converted to class E, taken the defensive driving course, completed and submitted the new TLC license application, gotten fingerprinted/UA, and taken a WAV workshop, the only thing left to do is to WAIT! This was right about the time that the Mayor’s office announced that it would not be putting a cap on the number of new drivers Uber could sign up in New York City, so I was relieved to know that I hadn’t done all of this only to find myself caught up in a freeze of licenses being awarded. I can’t remember the exact timeframe, but it did not take LONGER than three weeks for my new TLC license to arrive in the mail. Despite all the things I read online on different threads about the subject, I was surprised at how easily it had all been to get the license in hand.

Step 8 – DECIDE –> HOW <– YOU WANT TO DRIVE…

Once my TLC license had arrived (my converted class E had come a few weeks before) in late July, I had to decide if I was going to rent a car or attempt to get my own (which seemed unlikely at the time). I had been pouring over the rental ads on the Uber Marketplace website that they suggest to drivers. The thing is, all of the car rental lots seemed to be such expensive options, each leaving its own shady impression. Going back to the conversations I’d had with my boyfriend about the talks he had with his own Uber drivers over the months, nine times out of ten drivers told him that it was a huge [financial] burden to RENT a car to drive Uber: You basically are driving to make the weekly car payment; it was better to own the car you are driving. In all of my years of living in New York, it never occurred to me that I might be owning a car, let alone a brand new one. But, after I started getting quotes to rent for $450 – 550 a week, I quickly went back to drawing board. Ownership through financing had to be the way!

Step 9 – GET YOURSELF A NEW CAR! 

Yeah, it’s just that easy…. or at least the potential for it to be that easy is REAL! I walked into a Honda dealership and explained what I planned to do (get an SUV to start driving Uber), and three hours later (after my sweetie helped me negotiate!), I drove off the lot in a 2015 black Honda CRV with tinted windows, moon roof, and a nice warranty package. It was the first Tuesday in August, and I’ll never forget that feeling…! It was incredibly exhilerating to go from “how will I ever afford to rent a car for $500 a week??” to signing on the dotted line for a brand new SUV of my own with a monthly car payment that would be a fraction of the cost to rent. It helped to have good credit, and I make a point to keep all purchases associated with my car done with my business account (since drivers are contractors) so that I have some tax write offs for 2015. (If all goes well, next year I will refinance for even lower payments through the credit union I joined over the summer.) Regarding getting a new car, I considered getting a 2013 or ’14, but it made sense for me to get a ’15. Whatever you choose to do, be aware that your car has to be within seven years of a certain date to drive Uber in NYC (I think for now it’s 2008)One day I’ll write a post about why I chose not to lease a vehicle, but here is the full list of vehicles Uber accepts.

Step 10 – REGISTER YOUR CAR AS A FOR HIRE VEHICLE with the Taxi & Limousine Commission.

This is another convoluted process that started with my visit to the Uber Manhattan office to get the exact run down on how to register my vehicle. While it would take too long to explain this whole process, know that it entails associating your car with a taxi base (Uber will do this for you), receiving the hard copy of your registration in the mail (which takes time), getting commercial insurance through a broker at Uber (liability and full coverage, if you ask me), and receiving another appointment at TLC Commission to submit an application for TLC registration with the required documents (make sure you have the number of copies they ask for or they WILL send you away — three men ahead of me were sent back to get their copies, and the clerk said to me, “It would take a woman to get it correct!”). Finally, you will need to turn in your personal plates at the DMV in order to get TLC plates. This last step, turning in my plates, was the one time I made an exception to my DMV location rule and went to the DMV at Atlantic Center in Brooklyn on a Friday afternoon instead of in lower Manhattan or 30th Street. The reason is, you have to physically remove the plates from your vehicle and take them into the DMV to get new plates. This had to be orchestrated perfectly, i.e., making sure I had a screwdriver, and being parked somewhere in the underground parking structure where my car would be inconspicuous while plateless. Being parked on the street was not an option, as far as I was concerned. Going into the Brooklyn DMV didn’t take as long as I thought, though it was not quick either. However, I was able to [pay ANOTHER fee and] get my TLC plates within an hour then pop back down to the parking garage to screw the new plates back on my car. Wherever you go, make sure your car is under the radar while the plates are off!

Step 11 – GET INSPECTED AND (finally) SIGN UP!

vision_zero_turningAfter my car was registered as a For Hire vehicle, I got an  appointment (online) within a few days to get my car inspected in Queens which took about 30 minutes. Imagine my surprise when I received a notice that I had passed the inspection but got a (non-monetary) citation for having a missing decal. So, come to find out, there’s this thing here in NYC where pedestrians like to act like they don’t see a car when it’s turning the corner, so they walk in front of it like they are invincible. Perhaps once or twice there have been incidents where cars have, therefore, hit a couple of pedestrians while turning, I’m not sure. But in late 2014 the TLC Commission made it mandatory to affix a Vision Zero decal to the front windshield of all TLC registered vehicles. The sticker, which is a rendering of two stick figure pedestrians in front of a yellow car, is supposed to remind drivers not to run over people crossing the street! I can’t say how effective it is, but I had to get one in order to return to the Queens location a week later and make my inspection complete. I was able to get the sticker for free at the Uber LIC office when I went to sign up to become a driver later that day. Once at Uber, I moved through the line in less than an hour and was standing in front of a rep excited to sign me up as their newest driver (along with the 100 other new drivers signing up that day). With the official sign up I got a welcome packet and accessories that they assured would facilitate driving. After watching a ten minute Welcome To Uber video, it was around 6p by the time I had finished up the whole EIGHT WEEK process. Since Uber NYC offers drivers $500 who complete their first ride within seven days of signing up, I decided to pick up one fare that evening, a young lady in my Bed Stuy neighborhood heading to Home Depot! Quick and easy money!

So! There you have it… MY eleven steps to becoming an Uber driver. Of course there are tons of smaller details I left out, but for the most part, I think what I’ve explained here is pretty universal to those of us in NYC who have gone through the process — give or take a few hurdles that are variable. At the end of the day, two months in, I’m glad I did it… I’ve already experienced so many interesting stories while being behind the wheel, and I’m sure it will only get more interesting and exciting over the next year on the road! While this has been my experience registering with Uber NYC, if you’re in other cities or states, I encourage you to find out the steps specific to that area. Good luck!

If you have any questions, hit me up at UBERLICIOUS.NYC@gmail.com!

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