At 77 years old, Horst Stasiak has found the perfect post-retirement job as an Uber driver. According to data from the ride-share company, it’s a gig that a lot of seniors are doing.
Stasiak checks his Uber app for his next pick up—driving a New Jersey architectural engineer, in town on business, to Central Wisconsin Airport. Stasiak is picking up the man at Malarkey’s Pub, which Stasiak earlier had recommended as a place to visit while in town.
On the day that Uber, the ride-sharing service that operates in cities all over the world, announced it was starting service in the Wausau area this March, Horst Stasiak was ready to go. He’d already signed up as a driver, and had put an Uber sticker on his car, and was even getting notifications from the company. He started on day one, and while it’s impossible to know for sure, it’s likely he was the very first person to drive for Uber in the Wausau region.
He’s got an iPhone7 loaded with both the Uber and Lyft apps among his apps. He has a large-screen Apple computer at home. Stasiak says he always keeps up with the latest technology. He proudly shows nearly 80 badges he’s already received on Uber, ranging from “great conversation” to “excellent service.”
At 77 years old and retired for 12 years, Stasiak might not seem to be a typical driver for Uber, which is built around smartphone technology and especially popular among the under-30 crowd—it’s been said that Millennials were the ones who quickly made Uber famous.
But Stasiak’s foray into Uber isn’t a rare one. A report from Uber in 2015 showed that at least 25% of its drivers are over the age of 50. And both Uber and Lyft, another ridesharing app service, have been actively recruiting older drivers.
For Uber drivers of any age, the job is a perfect moonlighting gig to supplement other employment—and for Stasiak, a great, flexible job that’s easy to do in retirement. Uber (and Lyft too) allows a rider to search an area, then call an available Uber driver through the app. When a driver accepts, the rider can then see the driver’s first name, vehicle type and license plate. Payment is done through the app. After the ride, both driver and rider can rate each other.
For drivers, it’s a flexible freelance gig. There are no schedules to coordinate, no specific times one must work. Starting work is as simple as turning on the app and hitting the “online” toggle. Need to run errands yourself or have a personal commitment? Or maybe you just don’t want to work that day. Just turn off the app and you’re no longer working. Turn it back on and you’re back on the job. Obviously, you can’t simply stop in the middle of giving someone a ride, and—like running your own business—you want to make repeat customers happy. But other than that it’s almost as flexible as a job could possibly be.
For Stasiak, the job isn’t moonlighting; it’s something to do and the perfect way to earn some extra money. “Retirement is boring,” he says.
Stasiak calls me on a Friday afternoon. He’s got a ping, meaning he’s about to give a ride, and asks if I would like to ride along.
At the appointed time, Stasiak picks up Jon Jadico, an architectural engineer from New Jersey who’s in town to work with local window manufacturers. Jadico wanted to use Uber to get around unfamiliar-to-him Wausau.
Jadico says he got more than he bargained for. Stasiak happened to be the driver to respond to his Uber request, and turned into a concierge, recommending The Mint Café, Malarkey’s Pub, and other places to visit in the area. Jadico has had good experiences overall with Uber in New Jersey and Philadelphia, but nothing like Stasiak, he says. Stasiak embodies what surprised him about Wausau the most: how friendly everyone is. “Everyone is so much nicer here than in the northeast,” Jadico says. “It takes some getting used to,” adding that he’s never met a driver like Stasiak, who was such a visitors’ ambassador for the city. “It’s been a fantastic experience in Wisconsin so far.”
Stasiak makes easy conversation with Jadico as he drives him down Interstate 39 toward Central Wisconsin Airport. I point out that the Uber driver app’s mapping seems to be sending Stasiak south to Knowlton, and having him backtrack. “I usually have her turned off, otherwise sometimes I argue with her,” Stasiak says of the app’s voice.
Stasiak, who once owned a realty firm among other occupations, is competitive and knows technology well. He studies his competition, knows many of the other local Uber drivers, and is keen on building a regular clientele.
Among his regulars are many older people in the Wausau area who need rides to the grocery store, medical appointments and even restaurants. Stasiak created and hands out instruction cards for people who need help navigating smartphones and the Uber app.
Stasiak’s wife, Sandy, says driving for Uber is the perfect job for Horst because he loves to be around people, likes the work, and it’s flexible. Sandy Stasiak, who works at the Diamond Showcase, says if they want to go away for the weekend, Horst just doesn’t turn the app on.
“I think he’s changed a lot,” Sandy says. “He’s a lot happier because he’s out talking to people. Not that he wasn’t happy before, but he really loves what he’s doing.”
That’s not a surprise. Melissa Stockwell, Life Enrichment Director and Music Therapist at North Central Health Care, says it’s common for seniors to seek out post-career employment—it probably will become even more common. “Sometimes there is a financial need. As people are aging now, its not as easy to retire and live comfortably without having supplemental income.”
“Any job that gives someone a personal connection with other people, I think that’s what they’re looking for,” Stockwell says. “That’s important no matter what you’re age is.” Technology and physical limitations can be work obstacles for seniors, but the willingness to learn opens up new avenues for post-retirement employment, she adds.
Stasiak loves to tell stories about the people he has met: the out-of-town firefighters in the area to check on new equipment for their department; the young lady he drove to Madison (that’s about $120, in case you’re wondering); airport shuttles and “rescues” from Minneapolis.
Stasiak typically is up with his app on at 5 am, and works until about 9 pm. (Everyone else
Stasiak takes Uber riders in his GMC crossover SUV. Officially retired for 12 years already, the 77-year-old drives for Uber because “retirement is boring.”
can have the bar crowd, he says, though he did once drive someone who nearly hurled in his car.) He gives roughly six to nine rides per day, many originating near Jefferson Street Inn, which happens to be almost in the backyard of his downtown home. His ivory GMC crossover SUV stays parked nearby, and he’s ready to grab those “pings” when they come through.
Do the rides pay well? It all averages out, Stasiak says. He once picked up someone from Central Wisconsin Airport—meaning he had to cover his own 15 minute commute there—only to take the rider a few miles to Mosinee. The rider only paid a few bucks for the short ride, even though it was a hefty time commitment for Stasiak. On the other hand, people have hired him to drive to places such as Appleton, Madison and La Crosse. “My policy is I accept every ride,” Stasiak says. Those longer trips make up for the occasional low paying ones, and in the end Stasiak usually makes a few hundred dollars a week, which translates into a pretty decent hourly wage.
One of his best trips involved a group of businessmen on their way to the airport. They decided to make some stops along the way, and paid Stasiak to wait at the local restaurant while they cajoled and had a few drinks. In the end, Stasiak ended up making more than $100 per hour, with tips, on that particular trip.
One day Stasiak also played detective. A customer who had taken another Uber ride accidentally left his phone in that car. Stasiak got the driver’s name and managed to track down the car. They knocked on the door and the businessman got his phone back.
In his late 70s, Stasiak might be an outlier amongst his peers, but his age group hasn’t gone unnoticed by Uber and other companies that want to cash in on the ridesharing app success by helping older people use such services.
A company called GoGoGrandparent specializes in allowing seniors to call a ride with Uber and Lyft without using an app. Other companies have since sprung up offering similar services.
Lyft and Uber are also getting in on the action themselves. In Los Angeles, Lyft partnered with the San Diego firm GreatCall, and Uber partnered with 24HrHomeCare, both of which allow seniors to access their service without the app or even a smartphone. As services such as those spread throughout the country, those partnerships could help make Uber more accessible for the non-smartphone using crowd.
Stasiak counts several seniors amongst his regular customers, many of whom he’s taught how to use the app. Especially for those seniors who need a short ride, it can be fairly cost effective for them to help reach destinations such as the grocery store or the doctor. In many situations, a ride might cost less than $5.
Stasiak doesn’t recall any of his riders expressing surprise or interest that a retired man like himself jumped on the Uber bandwagon. “Why, do I look 77 years old?” he asks.