He Has Driven for Uber Since 2012. He Makes About $40,000 a Year.

On a recent Wednesday, Mr. Ashlock packed a corned beef sandwich, carrots, some C4 energy powder mixed with water, and a Kirkland Extra Strength Energy Shot. At 4:23 p.m., he set off for San Francisco, where the rides are.

He was on a Quest. This is Uber-speak for goals the company offers. If he completed 60 trips by Friday morning, for instance, he would get a $30 bonus. An additional 20 trips would yield a further $10. Uber needs drivers out on the streets — if riders have to wait, they might take their own car.

If Mr. Ashlock does not choose a Quest, he is assigned one. For full-time drivers, the goals can be lucrative if undependable: Nearly a quarter of Mr. Ashlock’s take-home pay from Uber last year was in the form of incentives. This one, however, was too small to bother with. “Thirty dollars,” he said, “is like ‘I don’t care.’”

A few minutes after 3 a.m., Mr. Ashlock was home again. According to Uber, he had made 25 trips in nine hours. He earned $200 in rides after Uber’s commission, plus $11 in tips and a $13 promotional bonus.

That’s nearly $25 an hour, which sounds impressive. But it cost $47 to fill up the Altima with gas. And he was actually working longer than he was on the clock. After he dropped off his last passenger and turned off the Uber app, it was 65 miles back to his house.

He and his wife used to live in Crockett, which is 20 miles closer to San Francisco, but were evicted when their place was sold two years ago. Their Cotati home, a former farm building, is a bargain for the pricey Bay Area at $1,400 a month. There is lots of room to make art but little natural light.

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