It’s been a little over a month since my last Uberlicious update, and quite a bit has taken place since then. Mainly, as a New Yorker, I had to go through the process of renewing my Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) license since the provisional license I received in July 2015 was only good for one year. Much like a year ago, there were a number of steps, checks and balances I had to complete before I received my new three year license in the mail that would enable to me continue driving for Uber, or even Lyft and other app-based transportation services in the tri-state area. Going through the process further proved what I’ve known all along: Driving Uber in New York City is UBER expensive, if not (borderline) cost prohibitive, for drivers.
For starters, in order to renew my FHV (for hire vehicle) license, I had to pay the renewal fee, which was upwards of a couple of hundred dollars. Not to mention, when you renew this license less than one month before it expires, the TLC will charge a $25 “late fee” to renew it. I realized this as I had twenty-two days left to renew and spent close to $300 in order to qualify for a new license. Next, I had to register for a three day 24-hour TLC course from one of four accredited Drivers Education schools between Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. The class is the same 24-hour course that yellow taxi drivers must take, but it is a requirement as of this year that Uber and Lyft drivers must also take it. The class costs $175 ($125 at the Brooklyn location) and at the end, you take an exam that costs $75 to register. At the school where I took the course, it is also a requirement to pay for books/materials (i.e. a couple of workbooks and an atlas of the five boroughs that indexes streets, roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, parks and major tourist attractions i.e. everything you can find on Google). I was hesitant to take the class because I thought it was a bit costly considering that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to continue driving beyond one year (I started officially in September 2015). But I knew that if there was even a chance that I would continue, I’d need to take the class before my license expired (which was mid-July). I also thought about how many industries have professional development type courses that one must pay for and exams that must be passed if they are to continue in that industry. So, I ended up taking the course during the final week of June. What would unfold in the classroom, that consisted of a bunch of yellow taxi drivers, Uber and Lyft drivers, and one lady other than myself, is something that I can only describe as quasi-instruction that could have been completed as an online course from a laptop in the comfort of my own home. Seriously, when the teacher tells you to read something, and you diligently read it, only for him to read it word for word TO YOU and the group twenty-five minutes later, you feel the urge to roll your eyes, stare out of the window and pull out your cell phone to scroll through social media feeds. But, given TLC policy, cell phones were pretty much prohibited in the classroom. Nevertheless, I got through the costly three days, while actually picking up a few facts and tidbits about NYC/TLC traffic laws and the city layout that I didn’t realize beforehand (like the fact that even numbered streets in Manhattan head east and odd numbered streets head west). I managed to get 91% on the computerized exam a week after the class ended. The most difficult part was finding intersections on the atlas maps that aren’t as easy to find… nevermind the fact that most, if not all drivers use navigational systems in their vehicles these days. At least I have a huge map book I can keep in my trunk in the unlikelihood that I’ll need to use it to get somewhere one day. (I’m actually thinking of using it as wallpaper instead! The maps are nice.)
Throughout the process of renewing a TLC license, a driver also needs to check to see if they have any tickets that should be paid, otherwise the fines will keep your license from being eligible for renewal. I had a couple of parking tickets from months past and paid them before finishing up the TLC driver’s class. I also had to go to a lab and provide a urine sample for a drug test analysis. Of all the things I paid for to renew my license, this was the least expensive costing $25 for the test. So, if you’re keeping a running total, that’s well over $500 dollars (plus settling any traffic or parking fines you may have incurred) in order to renew your TLC license so that you can continue driving Uber in New York City. The one thing I was grateful for was getting an extension on my provisional license at the TLC office in Long Island City since my new three-year one wouldn’t arrive until after the old one expired. Thank God, there was no extra fee for this extension.
I was less amused by all of the upfront costs of renewing my TLC license than I was with the upfront costs of getting the original license a year ago. As I mentioned, of all the places in the country, if not the world, to drive Uber (and other app based ride-hailing services), New York City is one of the most expensive places to become eligible to do so because of the Taxi and Limousine Commission requirements. But we are also one of, if not the top market with the highest earning potential when you average earnings by hours spent picking up passengers. So I thought about the potential of gaining the money back, and then some, by a couple of methods. The first is that, as I tend to keep my receipts being a 1099 contractor, I know that I should be able to write off all of these expensive expenses come tax season 2017. The second is that Uber, a $62.5 billion company as of mid-2016, has at least started providing financial incentives to drivers in the NYC area (and I would assume nationwide) based on performance. For example, some weeks, Uber will pay out a bonus of $250 to drivers who complete 40 rides within five days. Other weeks they will pay out a bonus of $300 for completing 50 rides in seven days. There was a time when I think they’d pay out an extra $500 for completing 60 rides in one week, but I never attempted to be on the road for the amount of hours it would take to complete 60 rides. On top of meeting those quotas, they will provide an extra $5 per ride for completing even more rides before the week’s end. For now, I’ve done well with the 40 and 50 ride completions (in under 30 hours throughout the seven day work week, or -as I usually attempt- 10 rides during five of the seven days), and can sometimes walk away (or should I say “drive away”) with around $1000 in the week! So, in a way, I have come out of pocket a great deal over the last month in order to renew my NYC TLC license, and will pay even more in order to renew my commercial vehicle registration and commercial insurance in coming weeks. But, at least I can somewhat recoup a portion of it through the weekly incentives deposited into my account with my paycheck every Wednesday!