How does Uber work? Here’s how the app lets you ride, drive, or both

Uber has changed the way we move, and that’s not a hyperbole. The California-based company invented a brand-new concept that makes spending 10 minutes hailing a cab in the rain a thing of the past, while letting just about anyone earn money in their spare time by moonlighting as a taxi driver.

The young company has been through more than its fair share of controversies (its founder and CEO recently resigned), but the free Uber application remains one of the best mobility tools on the market, especially if you find yourself car-less in a big city. Are you ready to start riding, driving or both? Our comprehensive “how does Uber work?” guide will answer all of your questions.

For riders

The first step is to download the app on your Android or Apple device, and provide basic information including your name, phone number, and credit card number. Once everything is set up, you need to enter the destination address into the box labeled “where to?” near the top of the screen. Don’t worry if you don’t know the exact address; you can find where you need to go by entering the name of a business, like “Starbucks” or “Game Stop.” Uber also lets users add short stops to each trip.

Confirm your destination, confirm your exact pick-up point by dropping a blue pin on the map, and the app will tell you approximately how long it will take to get there. It also provides the estimated cost of each service to ensure transparency, a feature appreciated by travelers who have gotten all too used to getting overcharged by taxi drivers claiming not to have a meter. The cost of a ride depends on which service you choose, and on the time of the day. The more people request an Uber ride at the same time, the more expensive a fare gets. Uber calls this “surge pricing.”

The basic services are called UberX, UberXL, and UberSelect, respectively. The difference lies in the price, and the type of car that will pick you up. UberX drivers are normally in a standard passenger car (e.g., a Honda Accord) capable of carrying up to four riders. UberXL operators have a bigger model (such as a Chrysler Pacifica) that can carry up to six passengers. Finally, UberSelect is a more upscale service Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW drivers can participate in.

Are you moving up in life? Uber has you covered with UberBlack and UberSUV services that offer even nicer vehicles. You might hitch a ride in a Cadillac Escalade, a BMW 7 Series, a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, or a top-spec Chevrolet Suburban. UberBlack and UberSUV drivers must be commercially registered. A handful of cities around the world also offer UberLux, the company’s flagship service. It’s expensive, but you’re guaranteed to arrive at your destination in an Audi A8, a Land Rover Range Rover, or a comparable high-end model. Talk about making an entrance!

Uber also offers a separate service for riders who need wheelchair-accessible vehicles, and a low-cost service named UberPool. As its name implies, UberPool is a car-pooling service that lets users share the same ride. Imagine you’re traveling from downtown Washington DC to Alexandria, Virginia. Your Uber could stop and pick up a passenger traveling in roughly the same direction as you; from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington, for example. It takes longer because you’re getting from point A to point B via points C and D, but it’s also the cheapest option.

User beware: there’s no way of knowing in advance who you’ll ride with when using UberPool. You could luck out and share a car with a quiet, discreet stranger, but you could also spend 15 minutes sitting next to a queasy student who is hungover from the night before. Or parents who think their kid screaming is adorable. In our experience, using UberPool is like playing society’s Russian roulette, and the risk of a hellish ride isn’t worth saving $2.50 on your fare. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Pick a fare, and you’ll soon get a message informing you that a car is on its way. The app provides the name of the driver and his or her rating ahead of time. It also lists the car’s make, model, color, and registration number, plus approximately how many minutes until it arrives at the pick-up point. You can tell your Uber is on your way by looking at the location of the car-shaped icon on the map.

Hop in, greet the driver, and you’re on your way. Regardless of which service you choose, there’s a bar at the top of the application that tracks the trip’s progress and the estimated time of arrival. There is the option of sharing trip progress via a number of communication channels, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Gmail, and an old-fashioned text message.

The great part about Uber is there’s no need to pay with cash; the app automatically pays the driver using the credit or debit card on file. Upon reaching their destination, passenger simply get out of the car and get on with their day. Users are asked to rate the driver after reach ride, and they’re given the option to leave a tip. Both are optional. Note drivers are asked to rate users on a zero-to-five scale, too. Keep in mind your rating is your reputation in the Uber community; few people have a perfect rating, but having one that’s unusually low might make finding a ride unusually complicated.

For drivers

To drive, start by downloading a free application named Uber Driver and filling out information about yourself (including your social security number, for a simple background check) and your car. Note not everyone is eligible to drive an Uber, and not every car is accepted by the company.

Drivers must be at least 21 years old, and they must have an in-state driver’s license. You need at least three years of driving experience if you’re under 23 years old, and at least a year of experience if you’re 24 or older. You need to be insured, and you need to pass both a background check and a criminal history check. You’ll be fine if you’ve received the occasional speeding ticket, but don’t count on driving for Uber if you’ve been convicted of a DUI or if you have any kind of criminal history.

The other requirements apply to the car. To drive, you must own a car no older than a 2007 model year, with four doors, and one that’s not salvaged. It needs to be insured and registered, and it needs to get pass an Uber vehicle inspection that covers basic items like brakes, tires, lights, and seat belts. Submit everything, meet all of the requirements, and you’re ready to give your first ride.

Simply turn on the app to receive notifications from riders who need a lift. With Uber, you can decide how many hours you work per day. There’s no minimum or maximum. The amount you make will depend on how much you drive, and when you drive; the surge pricing we mentioned in the rider section is beneficial to drivers, because they earn more during busy hours. Uber usually provides drivers with a list of the busiest hours in their area.

Several factors gnaw at your earnings. Drivers aren’t employed by Uber — they’re independent contractors, so gasoline, maintenance (tires, oil changes, etc), and depreciation fall on the driver’s lap. Drivers keep 75% of the fare, while Uber takes the remaining 25%, and money earned through the application must be reported to the IRS as income.

You’ll need a data connection to use the Uber Driver app, and Uber warns it typically uses about 2 GB of data per month. The app also reduces battery life, so we recommend getting a quality phone charger to ensure you don’t have to ask your passengers to turn on Google Maps. A solid car mount is a must-have, too.