Peak Rideshare Driving Times in Chicago

Chicago Driving Strategy: Your Guide to Peak Driving Hours

I remember my first time out on the road like it was yesterday.

My car was as clean as it has ever been, I had an on a nice button down shirt and my car was stocked with waters and snacks.

When I finally hit the road, I parked in what I thought was a prime location, turned on my app and waited for my first ping.

I waited…. and waited… and waited… but nothing.

Why? Because I didn’t realize that 12:30 pm on a Monday wasn’t exactly prime time.

I wasn’t being strategic.

That’s when I realized that I needed to have a plan to make money as a rideshare driver, and so do you.

We chatted with a few veteran Chicagoland area drivers about their strategies and came up with a list of the best times to drive in Chicago.

 

Weekdays (Monday – Wednesday)

The morning rush (5 am – 10 am)

In Chicago, the morning rush on weekdays can be one of the most profitable times to drive because you have so many areas that you can take advantage of.

One of the very best options for rideshare drivers is to focus on airports early in the morning, around 4:30 or 5:00 am.

If you’re starting out in the suburbs, you can count on a ride to the airport or downtown this early in the morning. Northwest and Western Suburbs like Naperville, Aurora, and Glen Ellyn are ripe with business travelers that need an early morning ride, so hang out in those areas early and expect to get a ping.

If you start off in the city, areas like Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Gold Coast, the West Loop, and The Loop are all heavily occupied by young business travelers so if you’re there before 6:00 am, you’ll likely find a rider headed to the airport.

Once you drop your passenger at the airport, check to see how many passengers are coming into your respective airport.

 

 

Monday’s and Tuesday’s are big commuter days for business travelers coming into Chicago as well, so you’ll likely be taken right into downtown Chicago.

After you make it back to the city, you can find a significant amount of rider demand in the Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and Wicker Park areas with riders looking to come into The Loop for work.

If you end up with an airport trip that takes you out to the suburbs, work the suburbs until about 10:00 unless you get a rider taking you downtown. Traffic will be costly from almost any suburb, so you’ll want to avoid it until at least 10:00.

Once 10:00 rolls around, you can set your destination to downtown Chicago and try to find a ride as you head into the city.

 

The afternoon rush hour (3-6)

Another great time to be out is during the afternoon rush hour, but you need to be careful to avoid common pitfalls like traffic which can eat up valuable time.

If you’re downtown after 3:00, you can position yourself in the loop and wait for a ping. You’ll likely receive one in just a few minutes as people are leaving work to go home. These riders will go to various suburbs around Chicago and neighborhoods in the city, so after your first ride, you need to be smart.

If you end up in the suburbs, don’t try to make it back into the city until at least 7:00. to avoid traffic. Instead, focus on key areas in the suburbs. These include:

  • Northern suburbs such as Deerfield which have a few business centers with large corporations like Baxter International and All state, so demand from workers that need rides home will pop up in those areas.
  • Metro stations. Many Metro riders will come from the city but still need a ride home. These are usually shorter rides, but will keep you busy
  • Colleges such as Northwestern, North Central, and even College of DuPage can keep a driver busy with students needing a ride home from class

If you can stay in the city you’ll have an easier time finding a ride, but you’ll likely need to fight more traffic. When your rider takes you away from downtown to northern, southern, and western neighborhoods, start to make your way back towards The Loop as you’ll pick up a ride as you make your way back.

You can continue to drive around downtown Chicago until around 6:00 when things will die down again. After that, your best bet is to save your gas, grab some dinner, and wait for the late-night crowd.

Late night (10 – 3)

The late night crowd early in the week in Chicago isn’t nearly as large as on the weekends, so you won’t get as frequent of surges, but there is still plenty of demand to go around if you’re smart.

Check your Gridwise app for events going on around town. The United Center, Navy Pier, The Vic Theatre, Riviera Theatre and other venues  will all regularly have significant sized events that you should keep an eye on.

 

 

Also, be sure to check the airport schedule. Business travelers often come in on Monday nights and will need rides from the airport to their hotels.

Weekends (Thursday – Saturday)

The morning rush (5 am – 10 am)

Thursday and Friday mornings are going to be similar to Monday – Wednesday mornings. The exception is that you’ll likely see a boost of riders heading to the airport for their weekend trips. You can predict airport demand again using your Gridwise app.

You’ll also likely see a rush of business travelers that are leaving their hotels to go home during Thursday and Friday morning. If you are starting your morning in the city, hang out near the hotels and you’ll find a passenger quickly.

If you are in the suburbs, consider gravitating towards the business-centric areas like Deerfield, Schaumburg, and Oakbrook which have a significant amount of business hotels that will have travelers that need rides to the airport.

Check your Gridwise app in the morning and identify the times when there will be peak departures. You’ll want to be near hotels about two hours before peak departures in the morning.

 

 

Early Saturday morning demand for riders in Chicago tends to be light, and nearly nonexistent if you are in the suburbs. This is a great time to rest up and prepare for a late night shift or hit the airports.

Because the rest of the city is going to be slow, you may see an influx of drivers in the Chicago airport. Before you head that direction, check your Gridwise app to see how many riders are in the queue.

 

 

If there are a lot of drivers and not much demand, you should check to see if there are any events going on.

 

Daytime hours (10 – 3)

Daytime hours on Thursday and Friday in Chicago are relatively quiet. Save your gas unless there is a compelling event going on.

On Saturdays, you can always find riders, especially in the summertime in the city, because there is so much going on. Think about popular tourist attractions such as Museum Campus, Navy Pier, and The Art Museum on Michigan Ave and gravitate towards those areas.

Trendy areas such as Wicker Park, Logan Square, and Boys Town are going to be buzzing with activity and events all day, so plan your day around those events.

If you’re committed to staying in the suburbs on Saturday, make sure you look for and take advantage of events going on in the suburbs and know the Metra schedule as you will be able to pick up riders that are leaving downtown.

If you want to maximize your profits however, we’d recommend heading to downtown Chicago.

 

The afternoon rush hour (3-7)

Thursday and Friday’s rush hours are similar to Monday – Wednesday. Stick to your common business area’s and you’ll find rider demand.

On Saturday’s you need to again be strategic and focus on areas that are hotbeds for events. Around 7:00 many people will just start to go out to bars and restaurants around town.

If you’re in the suburbs, this would be a great time to catch a ride into the city as you’ll find passengers looking to come downtown for an event or dinner.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on airport traffic. During the fall you’ll find an increase in airport demand due to the fans of Bears opponents arriving to watch their team get smacked around. Go Bears!

 

Late night (10 – 3)

Late nights on the weekend are BIG time hours for rideshare drivers.

You will encounter some intoxicated passengers, but you’ll get the most steady stream of passengers between 10pm and 3am Saturday night/Sunday morning.

No matter where you start, you should focus on driving downtown as much as possible. There is some demand in the suburbs, but it will be inconsistent at best.

If you’re coming from the western suburbs, you can set your destination to downtown and head into the city. You will not find much, if any, traffic. If you’re coming in from the northern suburbs, you can stop in Evanston and try to take a few trips from the college students at Northwestern. They will likely want short trips in Evanston, however, some will want to go downtown.

When you eventually find yourself downtown, there are a few main areas that you can work.

  • Lakeview/Boys Town/Lincoln Park
  • Wicker Park/Logan Square/Bucktown
  • River North/Gold Coast

All of these areas are going to be buzzing with activity the entire night, so you don’t need to be overly picky on where you are going. The trick is to quickly move back to one of these areas after you have completed a drop-off.

If you are a suburban driver, you can set your destination to your town around 1:00am and you’ll likely find a rider going the same way as you. Once you’re back in the suburbs, you should be able to catch the bar closings, especially in Naperville and Evanston.

If you stay in the city, continue to move through the popular areas mentioned above and you’ll have a busy night.

 

Sunday

The morning rush (4 am – 10 am)

Chicago is a mighty sleepy city Sunday morning, so you won’t miss much if you decide to sleep in as well. You’ll find a few people catching rides from the night before, but demand is going to drop pretty quickly after 4:00am.

 

Daytime hours (10 – 3)

Chicago is becoming more and more of a brunch city, so Sunday mornings can be surprisingly fruitful in the city. Around 11:00am, brunchers from trendy areas like Wicker Park, Boys Town, and Lincoln Park will be out looking for a mean and a drink, so you may find riders in those areas.

During the fall, you’ll of course have Bears games that will bring tons of people to the South Loop where Soldiers Field is. There aren’t many hotels near the South Loop, so many fans will have to stay in Northern neighborhoods or in The Loop. If you hang out in those areas, you’ll be sure to catch a rider that is headed down to the game.

Check your Gridwise app for alerts on when the Bears game will end and position yourself in the stadium queue.

The suburbs are unfortunately going to be very quiet on Sunday’s, so heading to the city will be your best bet.

 

The afternoon rush hour (3-7)

Sunday afternoons in Chicago are very event-driven. There are going to be show’s at the many Chicago venues, various games at the United Center, Wrigley Field, Soldier Field, and US Cellular Field.

You’ll also start to see airport demand start to creep up for both departing and arriving passengers. Keep an eye on your Gridwise app so you don’t miss crucial airport peaks.

 

Late night (10 – 3)

Sunday nights in Chicago are event-driven as well.

You’ll continue to find business travelers looking to come into or leave out of the city on Sunday evenings, so check your flight schedules using the Gridwise app. Gravitating towards the downtown area where popular business hotels are located will yield you a ride to one of Chicago’s airports.

With any luck, you’ll arrive at a peak airport time and can catch a ride back into the city.

Chicago is a big city with many potential passengers, but also many drivers, so you’ll want to be strategic. There are a few times where you can count on rider demand as long as you drive in popular areas.

During slower hours it’s important to be strategic and have a plan before you get out on the road. Use apps like Gridwise to help you understand what’s going on in your city and develop a solid driving plan in just a few minutes.

Now, what’s your favorite time to drive in Chicago? Share in the comments below!

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Wil Mette
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Wil Mette

A study of all of the Uber rides in Chicago over a year & a half showed that 3 AM was the most profitable hour to drive after expenses. Fewer pings maybe but no traffic & bar time surges made up for that. Things may have changed, but I do not think that many drivers are out at 3 AM.

You are right 10 AM to 3 PM is where you earn the least.

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