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  5. A Florida Uber driver who makes $3,000 a month to supplement her healing business said driving is fulfilling but a headache: 'I'm flying by the seat of the algorithm'

A Florida Uber driver who makes $3,000 a month to supplement her healing business said driving is fulfilling but a headache: 'I'm flying by the seat of the algorithm'

Noah Sheidlower   

A Florida Uber driver who makes $3,000 a month to supplement her healing business said driving is fulfilling but a headache: 'I'm flying by the seat of the algorithm'
  • Hiedi Handford, a medical consultant, supplements her income by driving for Uber in South Florida.
  • Handford found strategic ways to maximize her earnings, though she only pulls in about $3,000 a month.

Hiedi Handford, 57, has driven long distances for as long as she can remember. She drove 120 miles round trip over a mountain pass to get to and from work in Montana from her home in the same town where the Unabomber lived.

When Handford, a mother of three who moved to Colorado and then South Florida for her medical consulting business, discovered she could get paid to drive, she started with Uber four years ago. It helps her supplement earnings from her business, but she's been increasingly frustrated by some aspects of the driving experience.

"What's frustrating about it is, as drivers, we have all the risks, all the responsibility," Handford said. "We are the face of these apps, and they're not paying us to be that."

Handford is one of nearly two dozen South Florida drivers with whom BI spoke during spring break. Many echoed that driving has been fulfilling and profitable during certain points of the year, though many drivers have increasingly turned their attention toward private rides, alternative driving platforms, or rides in less populated areas. Some have turned away from driving full-time and have looked toward other income sources.

"I don't know how these guys pay rent around here if they're doing this full-time," she said.

Driving for Uber in South Florida

Handford spent the first four decades of her life in Montana, where she lived in a town of 1,000 people. There weren't many jobs in her area, so she took a government job 60 miles away on mountainous roads.

She eventually started in the medical consulting field as a holistic healer. She spent a few years in Colorado, where she was an activist in the cannabis space, and she trained in how to work with cancer patients.

She moved to South Florida 10 years ago, moving to Fort Lauderdale. Given that her patients were scattered across South Florida, she figured that she could make money driving passengers en route to appointments.

"Uber was much more lucrative than it is now," Handford said. "Four years ago, I could go out and make $350 in a day in eight or nine hours. That's not even possible now on a full 12-hour run grinding. It doesn't happen because they're taking so much. I had a ride from the airport up to Boynton Beach. He paid $62 for that trip, and I was paid $26."

Now, she estimates she's driving about six hours a day between client visits, making $20 to $25 an hour. It helps her supplement her medical consulting appointments, for which she charges $125 an hour. She sometimes uses destination filters to get rides convenient with where she's heading to, though she said they often don't work during peak times. On weekends, she often drives full days.

"I really consider myself a daytime driver, so a lot of what I do are doctor's offices. Health insurance pays for transportation, and so a lot of these doctor's offices are sending cars to get people, and then they do the billing on it," she said. "Any day, you can go out and make money. It's just a matter of knowing where to drive and not being so picky. If you're cherry-picking every ride, then you're not going to make any money."

While she has considered taking private rides, which can pay much more than random Uber and Lyft rides, she said she'd rather avoid the added risk and responsibility.

"Insurance-wise, I would never recommend anybody ever do private rides with anybody because somewhere, somehow, something's going to happen," Handford said. "You're in South Florida. You can be the greatest driver in the world, but you're trusting everybody else out there, and they're going to drive into you one of these days."

Instead, she has prioritized driving for Jeevz, which allows her to drive luxury cars. She makes a consistent $17 an hour on the platform, though she gets significantly more tips from wealthier riders. She also drives in her passengers' personal vehicles, which avoids costs associated with maintenance and depreciation, and she said she feels safer driving as the passenger vetting process is much stricter. She has a few clients with whom she's built a strong rapport, and she takes about three to four Jeevz rides a week.

"It really strokes my happy bone because I am a car nut," Handford said. "I've always wanted to try these other cars because I like horsepower and all of that."

Strategies for driving part-time

She said she used to drive in Miami — about 45 minutes south — all the time, using Google Translate particularly for her Spanish-speaking passengers, though the language barrier has led to some mixups.

She said she's been frustrated by the toll road reimbursement process, given her area has begun putting in new toll roads that aren't all reflected on the Uber and Lyft apps. She said it sometimes takes weeks to get reimbursed, and sometimes her requests get denied even when she provides proof.

It also took her a while to learn how to navigate the area's drawbridges, which can often cause delays and has led passengers to cancel rides on her. "We have cars, not hovercrafts," she said.

Handford said she didn't prioritize spring break rides as much this year as she figured out more profitable driving strategies. She's focused on airport runs for tourists since she typically stays away from the beaches, where she can sit in traffic for over an hour. Still, navigating Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where the ride-hailing staging area is nearly three miles from the congested terminals, is sometimes not worth it.

She's also noticed fewer incentives during peak times, and she's found driving in touristy areas can be hit or miss for earnings.

Driving around Fort Lauderdale during peak vacation times has its headaches and frustrations, though she said she loves acting as a tour guide and also a "mom." She advises riders on how to remain alert and safe while still enjoying themselves, which has also helped her increase her tips.

"I like spring break because I get to share my community and where I live, and I'm really glad we have more of them in Fort Lauderdale because then I don't have to go so far to do that because I enjoy engaging with them," Handford said. "I really don't believe that the problems they had on South Beach were from the kids coming in for spring break. They want to come here, have a great time, usually get hammered, and fall face first in the sand."

Driving is especially fulfilling when she gets rewarded for going the extra mile to ensure her passengers' safety. She said many drivers in her area will let passengers off anywhere without thinking about their safety, and she's found joy in being a resource for members of her community, particularly medical patients.

Still, the $2,400 to $3,400 a month she makes from driving may not be the most economical going forward.

"With Uber, I average $20 to $25, and if I'm not averaging that, I turn it off and go home," Handford said. "I'm flying by the seat of the algorithm."

Are you a ride-hailing driver who's struggling to pay bills or has had recent success? If you'd like to share your story, reach out to