SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's 4:25 in the morning and the phone alarm wakes Rey up. Even though he lives in Sacramento, Rey spent the night sleeping on the passenger's seat of his car in Millbrae.
It's the second of 14 days he plans on spending in the Bay Area driving for Uber. Some nights he will rent a hotel, but most nights he will sleep at the rideshare staging lot in Millbrae near San Francisco International Airport.
Ray got up early today hoping the rain will increase demand and he can make extra money from surge pricing.
He is one of many ride-hailing drivers who travel from outside the Bay Area to work for Lyft and Uber and who sleep in their cars to survive.
"It gets real busy early in the morning. I got early people catching flights, getting ready to go to work. Once you figure out how it works, you can make some money. But you gotta be ready to get out there on the hustle," said Rey as he checked out the map of San Francisco on his Uber app. It shows red pockets where drivers can earn extra cash because of surge pricing.
After doing some light stretching and storing his blanket and pillow in his trunk, Rey set out for San Francisco. His first ride was in the Mission District. It was a woman who had to be at work at five in the morning.
Rey will continue taking passengers to work and school during the morning commute.
"I will run probably until one o'clock this afternoon. Nine straight hours. And then I will shut down. Take a break," said Rey, who has been driving from Sacramento to San Francisco to work for Uber for nearly four years. " Everybody comes to San Francisco and work because there is a very high demand. The bay has the highest rates period."
Rey said people come from as far away as Los Angeles to work in San Francisco. According to him, people in other cities own cars and drive themselves around so there is not enough work to go around and the rates are lower. Rey wishes Uber would pay the same rate in every city so people like him aren't drawn to San Francisco.
Rey, a former truck driver, said he made $105,000 last year driving for Uber, but that is before subtracting his expenses. Once you take into account the $18,000 in gas, several brake replacements (driving in San Francisco can cause heavy wear on car brakes), new tires, vehicle maintenance, hotel rooms and eating out, his real take home pay is closer to $65,000.
"You actually have to put in 12, 13, 14 hours out of a day to make real good money like we used to make," said Rey, who accuses Uber of constantly reducing their share of fares. He would like the ride-hailing company to treat them like employees. Uber considers him an independent contractor.
Rey admits he likes the flexibility of the work. He can decide when to start and end his shift. But he said Uber still retains some control of his driving. Uber Pool is an example. Rey said that when Uber rolled out the feature, it gave drivers a larger cut of the fare. Today, he spend more than an hour on an Uber Pool ride picking up and dropping of about seven passengers and he only made about $17, before subtracting his expenses. He would like to reject these shared rides but he said Uber will penalize him if he turns them down by giving him less work. Uber does provide a bonus to drivers for the number of trips they make, but Rey would rather have that just be part of his share of each fare.
Rey decided to stop driving around noon and head to San Bruno for a break. He went to the bank and then to the gym where he can shower and relax a bit. By mid-afternoon, he was back at the SFO rideshare staging lot waiting for his turn to pick up a passenger. He likes to wait there because he can talk to other drivers. The lot is nearly full but not everyone is on queue to pick up a ride. It was nearly four in the afternoon by the time Rey got his first airport ride. It is the start of his second shift today.
"I will run probably late into the night. Some drivers run a whole 12 straight hours, then lay down or rest for six hours then get up and run another whole 12. I can't do that," said Rey.
After a second six-hour shift, Rey returned to the airport lot around 10 p.m. to sleep.
"The hotels are so expensive you use up all your money just staying in the hotels. A lot of drivers do it. Not just only here, they sleep up there at McDonald's, the rest area at 280. They are not homeless. They are just coming here to work."
After waiting a bit, Rey was able to find a parking spot that was not directly under the glare of the flood lights. He grabbed his pillow and his blanket and made himself comfortable in the passenger's seat.
"I will get started again in the morning," he said as he put himself offline on the Uber app.