‘I will never make money like that again’: A snow day in the life of an Uber driver

A Toronto Uber driver says she was determined to help as many people as she could during the snowstorm and the surge pricing was a nice bonus. Dilshad Burman with her experiences and earnings.

By Dilshad Burman

Toronto and much of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are still digging out of the massive snow dump on Monday that left people scrambling for transportation – either stranded by transit or because of snowed-in cars.

A Toronto Uber driver says she was determined to help as many people as she could that day, equipped with a large van, snow tires and time on her hands. The surge pricing throughout the day was also a nice bonus.

Forest Atkinson, an aspiring TTC driver, moved to Toronto from Ottawa in 2020 and says she’s well versed in driving through wintery conditions. As her boyfriend is a wheelchair user, she leased a wheelchair accessible van from Uber and it has been her full-time job for a little over a year, while she waits to land her dream job with the city’s transit provider.

She decorates the van from top to bottom with lights and festive baubles for holidays like Christmas, Easter and Halloween and shares her efforts of bringing cheer to riders on Instagram.

Atkinson credits the large, sturdy van for getting her through harsh conditions and long hours, choosing to work the maximum allowable time on the app in treacherous conditions.

“I said ‘you know what? I’m going to do the full 12 hours, I’m going to help some people out and I’m determined not to get stuck,’ and I didn’t,” she told CityNews.

Atkinson started her day early, dropping a friend from North York to Newmarket at around 6:30 a.m. By the time she got there, the snowpocalypse had begun and she knew it was going to be a rough day for commuters in the GTA.

“I just realized how big of a day it was going to be. There was going to be a lot of traffic and it’s going to be a day where everyone’s trying to move through the city,” she said. “I was determined to pick up everybody that called an Uber that I got.”

Atkinson says she drove 300 kilometres for Uber that day.

“That’s just the fares — it doesn’t include the mileage that I drove to get people,” she explained.

On a normal day, Atkinson says she averages about $150 to $200, making her wages about $20 an hour. On Monday, thanks to long fares and hefty surge pricing, she made more than four times that amount.

“It was $750 on the app for that day,” she explained. “But then the passengers were so gracious and so nice to me — with tips, I made $863.”

After a long and exhausting day, Atkinson decided to share the experience with her Instagram followers, asking them how much they thought she earned that day. Guesses ranged from $400 to $2,000, with the closest one winning a prize pack from one of Atkinson’s favourite local breweries.

Uber tells CityNews they saw surge pricing throughout most of Jan. 17, but while the larger paycheque was no doubt a good incentive, Atkinson says she was also proud to provide a vital service to the public on a very difficult day. She says she wanted to do her part to keep the city moving.

Among the 14 fares she picked up that day was a nurse who had worked overnight and stayed to cover off the day shift because her coworker was unable to make it into work. Atkinson said she heard several similar stories.

“It was nice to hear that the whole city, the community came together — if people were working overnights, they stayed. It was nice to see how determined people were to keep the city going,” she said.

Stories from the snowy roads

Along with the bumper pay, Atkinson says she was left with some unforgettable memories thanks to a varied and interesting cast of riders.

“It was really nice picking up passengers that day, just be a part of their adventure and hear what they’re going through, ” she said.

The one with the doughnuts

Early in the day, Uber Eats stopped offering delivery as they were unable to find drivers to service customer orders.

One passenger Atkinson picked up had ordered doughnuts and waited over an hour for Uber Eats to find him a driver before they shut down.

“He had just moved and he said he didn’t have any food and anywhere around where he lived was closed,” explained Atkinson. “Since he had already paid for his food and really wanted it and had nothing [at home], he calls an Uber – me – to go get his doughnuts and then bring him back home.”

The ride was less than 30 minutes long and Atkinson earned $70 for doughnut duty.

The one with the stranded bus riders

Atkinson says while many people were able to take a snow day on Monday, not everyone was as lucky.

“I know a lot of people were saying ‘just stay home,’ but some people had done [overnight shifts] … and [they] were just trying to get home,” she said.

One of her passengers was a security guard who had been on shift for 26 hours, having worked the overnight shift and then covering for his coworker who could not make it into work.

Atkinson explained that he was trying to take a bus home when the bus got stuck in the snow. He ordered an Uber from the bus and waited in it with a friend while she made her way to him.

“I was sitting at a red light and they texted me and said ‘I’m right here’ … and then I looked to my side and the bus that was broken down, there are people coming out of it and they’re getting into my car,” she said. “I’ve never picked up a passenger like that before.”

The one with the longest ride

Atkinson says the day was full of longer rides lasting at least 30 or 40 minutes. One fare took her from Newmarket to Mississauga.

“[The passenger] is doing long distance with their boyfriend and he lives in Barrie,” she explained. “The boyfriend was driving them back to Mississauga and he saw the traffic and said ‘I have to get to work, we’ll call you an Uber.”

Atkinson says when she picked up the passenger and started the fare, the app showed that it would take about an hour to reach the destination.

“We actually spent two hours from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., leaving Newmarket and trying to get to Mississauga,” she said.

The one that made the most money

Atkinson explains that many people had gone to work in the morning, but were being sent home due to the blizzard, with employers offering to pay for their Uber. She spent the better part of the day ferrying people from work to home between Mississauga and Brampton.

Towards the end of her workday, the Gardiner Expressway, which was shut down for several hours that day, reopened. Since she had about 90 minutes left on the clock before she had to log off, she made her way into downtown Toronto — which she says was faster than trying to get to her home in North York.

“The first fare I got was surged at three times normal fare,” she explained. “That fare brought me from downtown Front Street to Hamilton.”

The ride cost the passenger around $260 and after Uber’s commission, Atkinson earned $191 for the hour-long ride.

“I will never make money like that again,” she exclaimed.

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