Data Driven Analysis of The Most Profitable Time to Drive

A Data Driven Analysis of The Most Profitable Time to Drive


Over the last few months, we’ve interviewed countless rideshare drivers in an effort to learn from their experiences as a driver, and spread their advice among the rideshare community.

Well, we wanted to go beyond sharing general advice from drivers and start sharing more data-driven insights derived from our anonymized driving data, and we’re starting by trying to understand the answer to one of the most important and common questions we hear from drivers.

When is the most profitable time to drive?

Well, conventional wisdom says that driving late nights and during rush hours proves to be the most profitable. But, let’s take a look at what the data says, we’ll start by looking at Earnings Per Mile by time of day.

Here, we can see that across almost all markets, driving during a rush hour period means that your earnings per mile will be significantly less than other times. We can also see that driving during late mornings in Pittsburgh, D.C., and Chicago is one of the MOST profitable times to drive from a per mile basis, which is generally considered a non-peak time period.

Let’s also take a look at the average total earnings per trip:

Here we can see that again, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and D.C. have significantly higher total earnings per trip in the late morning hours than any other time, while rush hour earnings lag behind.

Rush hour is a peak hour… shouldn’t it be more profitable?

Many drivers that we speak to talk about the rush hour as one of the best times to drive. It is, after-all, a time where there are significantly more potential passengers. So why would earnings per mile skew lower during these off peak hours?

To better understand this, let’s think for a second about how earnings are calculated.

A drivers earnings per trip is made up of 4 variables:

  • Base Fare
  • Pay per mile
  • Pay per minute
  • Surge

The calculation for drivers earnings looks like this:

Drivers Earnings = (((Base Fare + Time(X) + Distance(Y)) x Surge Multiplier)) – Commission

Drivers generally get paid more by the mile than by the minute, so it’s more profitable to take longer distance rides where you are always moving quickly than shorter distance rides that take about the same amount of time.

So if a driver were to drive a certain distances with virtually no traffic, as opposed to that same distance with traffic and a longer trip from a time perspective, he or she would likely see their earnings per hour increase while earnings per mile would remain about the same. In fact, earnings per mile may actually increase if you are driving slow enough.

So why does the morning and afternoon rush hour, tend to result in lower earnings per mile?

We have found that significantly more drivers come online to drive during these hours along with more passengers. This increase in drivers can often start to outweigh the increase in demand, which means that even if you are available during the rush hour, you may have to drive farther and farther to actually reach your customer.

This means you are putting extra miles on your car between trips, which drives your overall shift mileage up and drives your earnings per mile down because of those “dead miles”.

We could also be seeing drivers repositioning themselves to what they believe are more profitable areas. These dead miles can easily add up during your shift and cause your earnings per mile to decrease. These reasons for dead miles also include:

  • More cancellations in peak hours as riders try to “shop around”
  • More miles spent driving trying to find a passengers drop off or pick up location

We can also see that earnings per trip is lower in almost all cities except for Chicago during the rush hour. What we are likely seeing here is earnings per trip decrease during rush hour because of the types of trips drivers are likely receiving.

Let’s take a look at the total size of these cities:

Chicago: 234.00 Square Miles
D.C.: 68.34 Square Miles
Baltimore: 92.28 Square Miles
Pittsburgh: 58.35 Square Miles

People getting rides during a rush hour are usually either going to or from work/school. These trips tend to be shorter than your average trip, unless you are in a large city because work/school is more likely to be farther away.

Chicago is a much larger city than any other city in our study, so it is understandable that these trips “home” are taking much longer than those same trips home in the smaller D.C., Baltimore, and Pittsburgh.

Would it be better to look at earnings per hour?

When looking at total profitability, it is important to measure your profitability against your costs to understand what is your ROI. For many professions, this is simply earnings vs. hours spent as time is the most valuable asset you exchange in this case.

However, for rideshare drivers, while time is an important asset that we are exchanging, we are actually spending a finite amount of money per mile in order to do our jobs. In fact, Ridester released an article last year that states per mile expenses for a rideshare driver who drives a hybrid vehicle will be about $.43 per mile.

Since we want to measure our return based on our most valuable exchanged asset, we will be looking at earnings per mile primarily. However, earnings per hour is a very important metric.

Looking at earnings per trip will help tell us a story about the trips that drivers are receiving and tells us how long vs short trips effect earnings per mile.

How should drivers approach non-peak hours?

Our data suggest that non-peak hours can indeed be the most profitable, which goes against conventional wisdom. But, how?

Well, generally speaking, there are fewer passengers out on the road during non-peak hours, but there are also fewer drivers out on the roads along with less overall traffic. So if drivers can find pockets of demand in those peak hours, then they can find more open road and be more profitable.

Off-peak hour drivers will have to be more strategic, so check your events calendar on Gridwise to understand where rider demand might fluctuate and when rider demand at airports will be highest.

Drivers should also be working to avoid traffic by leveraging a mixture of Gridwise, and your preferred navigation tool (we prefer Waze!).

Use these tools to not only avoid traffic while you navigate, but also gravitate away from traffic as you pick up passengers. If you find yourself continously getting sucked toward a traffic area, you may want to go as far as setting your destination filters to an area with less traffic.

Don’t Abandon a Surge

Avoiding too many other drivers is important, however, if you are consistently finding that peak hour surge, make sure you are taking advantage of them. We have found that drivers in Chicago are likely to find surges during off peak hours, so that could also contribute to their increased rush hour earnings. So if you are driving during a rush hour and frequently see surging in a certain area, continue to take advantage of that surge.

If you are not seeing surges, however, consider looking at different areas and different times.

More to come

We love data-driven insights, so we’ll be providing you with more blog posts that leverage this sort of information on this very topic and many others. For our Gridwise users, you’ll also receive a weekly report that helps you become a higher performing driver by giving you insight into how well you are performing compared to your peers in your city who drive as much as you do.

So check your inbox every Monday for your report, and if you aren’t a Gridwise user, download the FREE app so you can start tracking your performance metrics today.

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