If you’ve ever needed a ride to the airport, a ball game, downtown destinations or any event around town, chances are you’ve hired a rideshare driver through Uber or Lyft. When Uber came to Waco in 2014, it gave locals, college students and tourists another option to get around town. But it also gave drivers a new way to earn a living and connect with their community.
To become an Uber driver, you must be 21 years old, have a valid license for a least one year, and pass a background check - as well as a driving record check.
Kathleen Graham is a stay-at-home mother of five and a homeschool mom to her two teenage daughters. When her husband retired from the Navy after serving for 24 years, they sold their home in Oklahoma, gave away belongings and went full-time living in an RV for four years.
“When we were traveling and we were in bigger cities, we used Uber as a way of getting around," Graham said. "So, we met a lot of interesting people and just really had a positive experience."
After her family moved back to Waco in September 2018, she started driving with Uber as a way to meet people. She even remembers her first passenger.
“I was so thankful that I picked up such a sweet young lady, I was hooked after that," Graham said. "I was like ‘Oh, I hope everyone is like her.'"
In her black Chevrolet Suburban, Graham works mostly on Thursday and Friday nights from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. On average, she makes $400 dollars a week. Graham said she likes to stick to the Baylor area, also known as the Baylor Bubble, picking up mostly college students.
“They know me as Uber Kathleen or the Uber Mom, and I love that," Graham said. "I guess what makes it really exciting for me is whenever I pull up in front of a house and there is a gaggle of girls standing out there, and they are cheering."
Graham has a 4.9 rating with Uber. As the seasons change, she changes the oil diffuser in her car, during Christmas, hands out candy and has trash bags just in case anyone gets sick. For out of town visitors, she has memorized parts of Texas and Waco history.
“I think a lot of drivers should at least experience, one time, the things around town so you can be knowledgeable about what people are doing around town,” Graham said.
According to Business of Apps, there are about 15 million Uber rides and 1 million Lyft rides completed each day. For rideshare driver Troy Sorenson, he has completed about 2,000 rides over the past two years and has had about 12,000 people in his 2017 Dodge Durango.
“I enjoy the heck out of it, every ride's an adventure," Sorenson said.
Sorenson has lived in Waco for 30 years and has been working as a rideshare driver since December 2017. When his girlfriend of nine years began working night shifts, he didn’t have anything to do in the evenings.
Sorenson makes about $400 dollars working the evening and overnight hours – minus the $75 dollars he has to use for gas. He says about 60% of his passengers are Baylor students – so when school is out business is slow.
"Most of them appreciate the service which makes you feel good when you are appreciated,” Sorenson said.
He has also been a self-employed real estate agent for 23 years. He said he has always liked to talk to people.
“A lot of the time I’ll pick up people and come to find out that we have a connection somewhere — they'll know somebody,” Sorenson said. “Or, they’ll remember from the time before. They’ll [say], ‘You’re the guy who plays poker and sells real estate.’ And I say, ‘Yep!’”
With a 4.94 rating on Uber, Sorenson gives out breath mints to bar hoppers, candy during Halloween and bottled water during the summer. He also has LED lights.
Sorenson loves the stress-free driving in Waco, but he also gets to do the big roundtrips to Austin or Dallas about once a month.
Unlike major cities, Waco has a smaller community where it is possible to pick up the same person twice.
“I drive around this really sweet blind woman. On Christmas Eve, she asked if I could take her into Barnes & Noble to pick out some Christmas gifts and of course, I did,” Tammy Jean Rodgers, a part-time rideshare driver said.
Rodgers was a full-time rideshare driver in March 2017 after she lost her job with Gander Mountain when they closed.
"I fully support a disabled husband, so I needed a second job,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers lost her job during while Baylor students were out for the summer. She realized that she wouldn’t be making enough money working in Waco, so she began to drive to Dallas, putting 400 miles on her 2014 Honda CRV.
“Every. Day,” Rodger said. “It's stressful on your body because you’re sitting all day, you’re driving all day. It can be stressful on your life because I was leaving at 7 o’clock in the morning and not getting home until 7 or 8 o’clock at night.”
But Rodgers loves being a rideshare driver.
“I’m stronger than I thought I was when it comes to working a lot,” Rodgers said.
Now, Rodgers only drives on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. since she got a new job, but says she still drives people around because she enjoys it - which happens to be a shared feeling that all three rideshare drivers have.