The idea behind companies like Uber and Lyft is pretty simple: you drive your own car, they hook you up via smart phone with someone needing a ride, you pick them up and take them where they are going, you get paid electronically, the company gets a cut. The end.
It's like having your own taxi service, except you decide when you will and will not be accepting riders and whether or not to pick-up any given person. The UberX service has been a huge hit in major cities like Washington, D.C. where finding a cab can be tricky at some hours. Unlike cab companies, UberX drivers are just normal people who own cars and don't have to carry specialty insurance. The cost to the rider is based on time, distance and demand. And since no actual cash is exchanged, it feels safer for both rider and a driver who isn't used to being a taxi service.
The service has been seen by many as a way to make some quick extra money using a tool you already have -- your car -- without having to succumb to any kind of work schedule. It works particularly well for students, for example, who work as drivers around their class schedules or for people wanting to make extra cash after their regular full time job.
Now Uber is looking to recruit military spouse drivers as part of its larger veteran recruitment campaign. Veterans, Uber officials say, get the highest ratings as a group out of all of their drivers (we're guessing it's due to sexiness ... or work ethic. Whatever). Military spouses, they say, have many of the same qualities and would make excellent drivers, too.
But the bigger piece at play here is the idea of flexible work schedule and a low barrier for entry. It's the same reason military spouses look for work-from-home jobs like call centers. Childcare is expensive, and it's hard to find a gig that works around your spouse's military schedule.
Enter UberX driving. If you live in one of the 300 cities they currently serve, you can sign-up to be a driver. Uber rules prohibit having other passengers in the car, so driving around with your 3-year-old is out. That means this is a great side job to have for you in-between time, said Todd Bowers, Uber's military outreach director. Drop your child at school, turn on Uber, start accepting riders.
"When we look at the way military families are structured and the employment opportunities that are out there ... I cant find anything else that gives them that flexibility to generate additional income to be able to support their families while being able to manage [military life]," he said. "We found that Uber can really help families with the way they are managing their daily lives. Drop [children] off and then just turn it on."
If there's a problem with the perks Bowers highlighted, it's that those in-between times may not yield the income reward military families are hoping for, according to a few Uber drivers I spoke to. One, a former military spouse, told me she found there was very little cash to be made driving during school hours because passenger need wasn't high. She said the best time to drive was late at night and into early morning, when partiers and club goers were looking to get home.
So relying on Uber for guaranteed extra income instead of a different job during school hours may not be the best cash flow strategy. But it certainly would supply a little here and there, especially if you weren't planning to do anything else anyway. And if you were able to drive for several hours after your spouse got off work for the night, you wouldn't have to worry about childcare coverage because you could drive when he was home, and skip it if he wasn't.
The other issue with this Uber plan, however, is that the military communities most desperate for spouse jobs are in places that Uber doesn't currently operate. San Diego, California, Hampton Roads, Virginia and Fayetteville, North Carolina are all options, but there are many, many, MANY large and small military towns with big employment gaps where Uber currently is not. And if they did open there, suddenly flooding the market with Uber cars probably wouldn't do anyone much good anyway.
On the whole, Uber driving doesn't seem to be a bad gig for anyone, including military spouses -- and particularly if you require mega flexibility. But banking on it for steady income? That may be a different story.
Photo courtesy U.S. Navy/Michael Beaton