Oldchella Desert Trip: Is it Worth it to Chase the Biggest Events?

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Harry here.  It’s always tempting to go drive during big concerts or busy holidays but is it worth it?  Today, RSG contributor Jim Miller takes a look at an upcoming event in his area to help drivers determine whether the risk is worth the reward!

The same concert promoters that brought you Coachella and Stagecoach have pulled a rabbit out of their hat with a new concert called Desert Trip.  It’s a once in a lifetime mega concert nicknamed “Oldchella” featuring The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who!

Tickets for Desert Trip went on sale in May and sold out within hours.  Immediately, a second weekend was announced and tickets also sold out in a few hours.  So this thing is going to be big, but since it’s out in the desert a couple hours outside of LA, it begs the question: is it worth it for rideshare drivers to head out there and drive?  In this piece, I’m going to look at Desert Trip specifically, but regardless of where you’re located, it’s important to analyze the risk vs. reward for mega-events like this and determine whether it’s worth it or not.

In October, the concert promoters of Coachella are bringing "Desert Trip", nicknamed Oldchella, to Indio. Is it worth it to chase this big event?

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Desert Trip vs. Coachella and Stagecoach

Oldchella is expected to bring 70,000 visitors to the low desert, which is right on par with Stagecoach.  In 2016, both weekends of Coachella brought in 100,000 visitors.  Stay tuned: rumor has it that starting in 2017, Coachella will increase the number of tickets from 100,000 to 125,000.

Do You Have Lodging?

If you live close enough to drive, you’ve got it made.  But for most drivers who live far away, you’ll need a place to stay.  The baby boomers have already booked all the big hotels all over the valley, but we are Uber drivers and we won’t need a fancy hotel (we are Uber drivers and we can’t afford a fancy hotel).  A cozy motel will be just fine; we just need a quiet place (preferably with blackout curtains) to sleep.  Search the web to find a reasonably priced place even if it’s 20 or 30 miles away.  Cut your motel expense in half by sharing a room with another Uber driver.  I talked to some young drivers who camped out or slept in their car.  I’m 52, and I would be a grumpy mess if I slept in my car.

You could also look into sharing a room with a fellow driver or staying with a friend/family member.  You’ll be there to work, not relax, so as long as you have a comfortable place to sleep, that should be all that you need.

Will You Be a Fish Out of Water?

I live in Rancho Cucamonga California, a suburb in the Inland Empire 60 miles east of Los Angeles and usually drive on Saturdays.  I drive in LA because it’s usually busy there (and always much busier than the Inland Empire).  I attended College of the Desert in Palm Desert for two years in the 1980’s.  I have a sister who lives in Palm Springs and she graciously lets me stay at her place when I drive for these Indio concert events.

When I started driving for Uber, I felt pretty comfortable driving in the low desert.  It took a full day to learn the concert venue though and how to get in and out.  The first few times I drove in Los Angeles, I was a fish out of water.  But that was the place to be to earn money, so I sucked it up and learned the area.  If you are not familiar with the low desert, your GPS and this blog will help you feel much more comfortable.  We’ve all driven in places new to us.

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Technical Glitches and Fake Surges

Why do Uber drivers come from a long way away to work concerts in Indio?  We are all chasing the surge:

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This was the first night of Coachella on April 15, 2016 at 2:00am.  My app steadily showed this same 8.9x surge from around 12:30am to after 2:00am, but it was not real.  Imagine my disappointment when I accepted my first ride at the end of the event and the surge was only 2.5x.

I learned that if the surge seems high, check the Uber passenger app for verification.  Even though I provided Uber with several time-stamped screenshots like this all showing 8.9x, they would not adjust my fares.

Related Video: What can Uber drivers do about surge discrepancies?

Also, on the first night, I got several ride requests from a few (or many) miles away with zero surge.  After elbowing my way into the Uber lot for 30 minutes, there was no way I was leaving without a surge-paying customer.  Cell phone coverage around the Indio Polo Grounds venue is spotty.  Uber adds some temporary equipment, but you should still expect technical glitches, especially on the very first night.

What Is Demand Like Earlier in the Day?

The white square in the screenshot below is the geofence around the venue (the red square in the screenshot above fits perfectly in the white square below).  For Coachella and Stagecoach, drivers enjoyed a few nice surges like this before the main headliners took the stage, but they did not last very long:

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Unlike in LA or other major markets where you get smaller honeycomb shaped pixels that show you exactly where the peak demand is, the Palm Springs Uber market still uses these big blocks.  After dropping off your passenger at the venue, many drivers head north and then west on the Highway 111 to hotels in La Quinta, Indian Wells, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and Palm Springs.

Caution: Avoid heading southwest or you’ll get a ride request from PGA West, where you’ll often waste several minutes waiting in a line to get past the guard at the gate to pick up your rider.

No Pool, No Destination Filter, No Airport Pickups

UberPool and the Destination filter have not been activated in the Palm Springs market yet (same for Lyft).  I am dreaming of the day the Destination Filter is active everywhere.  Until then, I’ll be dead heading there and home each weekend.  You may drop passengers off at the Palm Springs airport, but UberX and Lyft drivers may not pick up passengers.

What Makes Desert Trip Different Than Coachella or Stagecoach?

Start with this:  The low desert is a very seasonal.  “The Season” typically begins around Thanksgiving when snowbirds with money leave Canada and other cold climates to enjoy the relatively warm low desert “winter” weather.  The snowbirds fly home when it gets hot.  In mid-April, it’s common for the high temperature to top out in the 90’s.  The last of the snowbirds are gone by the 1st of May when it starts hitting 100 degrees.  Lots of people live here year round. Lots of tourists visit the low desert year round, but especially during the season.

Translation for Uber drivers: in April, there are still plenty of locals, tourists and snowbirds still in town that will keep you busy when you are not busy taking people to and from Coachella or Stagecoach.  Not so for Desert Trip.  The snowbirds are still home and there are not nearly as many tourists. Coachella is the busiest with 100,000 people.  Stagecoach and Oldchella both attract 70,000 people, but Oldchella in October is offseason.

Also, Coachella and Stagecoach are festivals that begin around noon with over one hundred artists on several stages.  Crowds drift in starting around noon and some arrive as late as 8 or 9pm.  Many concertgoers have had enough before the final acts are done and leave around 10pm.  But Oldchella is a traditional concert with just two acts per night.

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The traditional concert format of Desert Trip could translate into high surges pricing in the hours right before the concert begins, but it will probably be slower than Coachella and Stagecoach all day until around 4pm.  Once the concert begins, I bet it’ll be dead slow.  For Coachella and Stagecoach, that’s when I drive about 35 minutes northwest to downtown Palm Springs to keep busy with mostly short rides.  Since there are just two acts each night for Desert Trip, there won’t be many people leaving early.  Once you are in the Uber lot and get a ride request, you text your passenger the stall number where you are parked and they will come to you.  My goal is to get at least three surge rides out of the venue.

Once you have picked up your passenger, you can now go offline during your ride since you do not want to be distracted by a non-surge ride request after you drop off your passenger; you want to head back to the venue for another surge ride.  Here’s a screenshot to show you how to stop new requests during a ride (street address omitted for privacy).  You can click on the window that says “I really gotta pee now” (which for some unknown reason has been replaced with “Stop new requests”) or slide the toggle button the opposite direction, or just tap on the blue bar.  The blue bar will change to black and you will not get any new ride requests near the end of your ride.

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Once you drop off your passenger and rate them, you’ll get this screen.  Yes, you want to go offline until you get back to the venue:

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The Uber Lot Has Moved Closer to the Stage

For Coachella and Stagecoach, the Uber lot was on Monroe and Avenue 49, which left passengers with a healthy 1/2 mile hike into the venue (sometimes with blowing sand; many concert goers wear bandanas to filter some of the dust).  Riders will be happy to know the Uber lot is much closer to the stage this year.

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I am a bit concerned that, with the Uber lot being right next to the entrance of the venue, they may stop cars frequently for pedestrians.  It is still a little early for Uber to promote Desert Trip.   If you normally drive in the Palm Springs or Inland Empire markets, Uber will send texts and emails to encourage drivers to head to the desert.   A week or two before the events, Uber will publish maps and other helpful information here.

I vaguely remember an Uber promotion for Coachella and Stagecoach in 2015.  I don’t remember any specific Coachella or Stagecoach promotions for Coachella and Stagecoach 2016.  However, I ended up earning some bonus money since I gave enough rides that were not required to originate in Los Angeles, where I normally drive.

Although the Uber lot is not on Monroe and Avenue 49 for this event, traffic flow can be very confusing since the traffic flow in the daytime is not always the same as the traffic flow at night.  Whatever map Uber publishes will be for traffic flow at night.  In the daytime, you can sometimes save time and miles if key roads are not blocked off yet.  Police from all over SoCal show up to help out the local Indio Police department.  There are plenty of motorcycle cops ready to pounce on unsuspecting Uber drivers, so keep an eye out for traffic signs like this that seem to pop up out of nowhere.

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The 24-hour Walmart Neighborhood Market at 48756 Jackson St (corner of Avenue 48 and Jackson St) has a nice bathroom just inside to the right.  For Coachella and Stagecoach, you drove right by it on the way out of the venue (that might change for Desert Trip since the Uber lot has moved).

What About Lyft? Trade Dress

Lyft has mentioned Coachella and Stagecoch in their promotional emails, but so far there is no presence from Lyft at the venue.  I read on the “Uber Drivers Inland Empire” Facebook page that some Lyft drivers wait for passengers at the Rite Aid about a mile north of the venue.  However, there was no shortage of drivers with Lyft or dual trade dress in the Uber lot.  The security guards who wave you into the Uber lot don’t seem to know or care about Lyft vs. Uber.

I’ve heard (but never personally seen) Uber personnel patrol the lot, however it was to ensure that drivers were online (rather than taking up a space while offline waiting for surge pricing to kick in).  I have not heard of a Lyft-only driver being asked to leave the Uber lot (they could; Uber spends a lot of money to set it all up).  If you drive for Lyft only, pack some Uber trade dress just in case.  Don’t forget to also display your trade dress on your back window, bottom right.  If your Uber trade dress displays the side that says Uber, it’s backwards; Uber faces in, the new Uber logo (the one on the Uber passenger app) faces out.

Adding It All Up – Is It Worth It?

In an earlier post, I was not enthusiastic about Coachella and Stagecoach in 2015. The main reason I gave it another try in 2016 though was because it was an opportunity to work a lot of hours in a short period of time: “Uber, sleep, repeat” for the whole weekend.  I am just one guy, and as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

I added it up though:  For Coachella and Stagecoach 2016, I was all in.  I worked an average of 46 hours each weekend (from Thursday night to either Sunday night or Monday).  In three weekends, I was online 139.3 hours and my cut after Uber’s fee was $2,956.16.  Three grand sounds like a lot for three long weekends, but it sounds like a lot less when you do the simple math:  I averaged only $21.22 per hour.  And that doesn’t count my expenses including gas, income tax, 13% self-employment tax, car washes, water bottles*, ice, Starburst, meals, dead head miles to and from the low desert, and depreciation on my car (no motel expense since I stayed with my sister).

Related Article: How much does it really cost to be a rideshare driver?

*Water bottles:  Many Uber drivers don’t provide water bottles and are quite vocal about it.  If you don’t normally provide water bottles, consider packing a full-size cooler full of ’em for Desert Trip.  Concert goers have been out in the elements (which often includes blowing sand) for hours and seem to really enjoy an ice cold bottle of water.  I get more “thanks for the water” tips working these events compared to LA where most passengers don’t give a rip about water.

Related Article: I added a tip sign to my Uber, here’s what happened

The Wild Card – How Many Uber Drivers Will Show Up Each Day?

For the two years I have driven for Coachella and Stagecoach, it seems to me that passenger demand is about the same Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. But I’ve noticed slightly higher surge pricing on Friday since some part-time Uber drivers with day jobs didn’t make it out to the low desert until Saturday.

When I break down my earnings by the day for three Coachella and Stagecoach weekends in 2015 and 2015, the hourly rate has been steady except for one astounding anomaly:  My best single day was Friday of Stagecoach 2016.  Apparently a lot of drivers didn’t show up since Stagecoach only attracts 70,000 fans, not the 100,000 people that Coachella brings to the low desert.  Around 4pm that Friday, I got two back to back 8.6x rides, one for $160, another for $150.  That day I worked 14 hours and earned $563.43, which is over $40 per hour before expenses.

What was the slowest day of all three weekends both years?  The very next day.  Apparently a whole bunch of drivers showed up and it was so slow.  I worked 15 hours and only made $188.13, that’s only $12.54 per hour (not including expenses which makes it well below minimum wage).  It’s like Forrest Gump’s mother said: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.”

So will I be back for Oldchella?  You bet, I’ve got bills to pay. For me, it’s worth the risk.  Maybe I will see you there.

Feel free to leave your comments below.  I’m sure others would benefit from hearing about your Coachella and Stagecoach experiences.  What will you do to maximize your rideshare earnings for Desert Trip?

Bio: Jim Miller is a full time customer service rep for a large utility in Southern California for 27 years.  He’s a big fan of San Diego State Basketball (class of 1987) and long suffering fan of Angels Baseball.  Jim has been married to his best friend Joanne for 28 years and is the proud father of two talented and successful daughters Rachel, 25, and Megan, 20.  He drives from the suburbs of Rancho Cucamonga 50 miles to Los Angeles and back most Saturdays to earn a few extra dollars.

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I’m Harry, the owner and founder of The Rideshare Guy Blog and Podcast. I used to be a full-time engineer but now I’m a rideshare blogger! I write about my experience driving for Uber, Lyft, and other services and my goal is to help drivers earn more money by working smarter, not harder.

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