The life of a limo driver

The Payscale | July 8, 2006

Living in the S.F. Bay area, I’m pretty sure that one could not survive on the pay of a limo driver alone.  The company that I work for has two ways of paying the drivers.  The first is “charter” pay and the other is “transfer” pay.  I’ll explain the difference between the two to help you better understand how things work.

First, let’s take charter pay.  A charter is when a client orders a car for a specific time frame.  They can have several stops along the way and are renting the car and driver by the hour.  An example or two would be someone that wants to take their significant other out to dinner and a play, not worry about parking or how much they have had to drink.  They would order the car, have the driver pick them up at the specified time, take them to the first location, wait for them, take them to location two, wait again and repeat as necessary until they are taken to the final destination.  Another example would be a realtor that wants to show out of town clients multiple homes on the same day.  They may rent the limo to hold the entire family and have the driver go from open house to open house with the family viewing each home upon their arrival.  The realtor is able to sit in the back with the clients and review features of the neighborhoods and other homes as they are being driven from site to site.

The next is transfer pay. A transfer is moving from one place to another and being dropped off.  The most common is to or from an airport to either home or a hotel.  It has a fixed start place and ending place and there usually aren’t stops in between.

If there are stops on a transfer, there is an extra $20 charge per stop.  Your driver will most likely let you know that if you are going to make multiple stops, you should convert to a charter to save yourself some money.  In our company, a transfer from the east bay to SFO is $119.  The charter rate for a towncar is $165 for three hours.  Since most east bay cities can be reached within an hour, if the client wants multiple stops ($119 + $20 + $20), it’s probably going to be better for them to keep the car for up to three hours for the flat $165 than to keep having additional $20 stops.

The prices quoted for the cars here is the base rate.  On top of that, my company charges a 9.7% surcharge that according to their website, includes tolls, parking and looping fees as well, I’m sure, as a fuel surcharge.  Additionally, a gratuity for the driver should be added to each ride. 

If as a driver, you are working a charter, you are paid an hourly wage.  My company starts drivers out at $8 per hour when in training and moves them to $9 an hour when they are on their own.  Yes, that is not a misprint.  $9 per hour.  In and Out burger pays $9.71 per hour to their staff to flip burgers and fill milkshakes.  Tips are appreciated and necessary in order to keep your driver from the poverty roles.

Transfers are paid per ride.  A transfer to or from SFO to the east bay pays $21.50.  OAK to the east bay pays $17.50.  Outwardly, that appears to be the better pay for the drivers, but as a driver, we are only paid when the client is in the car.  The wait time between rides or for delayed airplanes are not paid.

A typical example of a SFO transfer to Livermore would be.  I arrive at the office 2 hours before the flight is scheduled to land.  I receive the paperwork for my rides for the day and go to the printer and make the greeting signs for the folks so we can find each other at the airport.  I pull a map of the destination so I can at least try to make them think I know where I am taking them once I pick them up.  I stock the car with ice and beverages and check it out for safety items and dings, dents and scratches that will be charged to me unless I point them out before the ride.  I leave for the airport to pick them up at least an hour to an hour and a half before they are scheduled to arrive.  This allows for traffic delays and allows the plane to arrive early and they will still have a driver there to meet them.  I get off the freeway one exit before the airport, find a place to park and wait for the arrival time to near.  Since we are charged a looping fee each time we circle an airport and we are charged for parking at the airport once we are stopped, we can’t wait at the airport, but must find somewhere offsite to wait.  10 minutes before the flight is scheduled to land, I drive to the airport, park the car and walk inside the airport to greet the clients. 

Once the clients arrive, usually about 10 minutes after the flight has landed, they are greeted by me holding the sign that I had made earlier with their name on it and we go stand together by the baggage carousel and wait for the bags to arrive.  That usually takes 20 more minutes or so before we actually get into the car and start rolling.  An hour later, I have dropped them off at their home and have been paid by the company $21.50.  Now, if you were following along, you will note that I started 2 hours before this ride getting things ready to go and getting there on time, then I waited 10 minutes for them to walk out to me, 20 minutes for their baggage and then drove them an hour to get home.  That took me 3 and a half hours to earn that $21.50.  You can see why tips can be important to a driver.

Once that client is dropped off, I head back to the airport to await another client.  If I’m lucky, there is only a half hour wait or so between flights.  I would guess the average wait to be more like two hours and I’ve waited as long as 6 hours sometimes.  If I have the average two hour wait, I also have the half hour for greeting and baggage, then the hour to drive them back home, so it’s again a 3.5 hour trip.  Another $21.50 made.

Tipping.  Let’s just say some folks get it and others don’t.  If the ride costs $119, the tip should be (assuming 15%) $17.85.  Some folks have us just add in a 15 or 20% tip for them.  Others try to figure it out for themselves, some with success and some without.

My tips have ranged from 0, yes that is a zero, to $50.  The average is around $20.  So, once we figure in the tip, the 3.5 hour trip to pick someone up at the airport nets me $41.50.  That’s $13.83 per hour.  A bit better than flipping burgers at $9.71, but still not a lot of money in this economy.  A ride from OAK to the east bay is only $99, with $17.50 going to me.  A tip from OAK is usually $15, so that ride total is $33.50.  OAK rides take 30 minutes less, so I have only worked 3 hours for the average ride, not 3.5 like the SFO rides.  That works out to $11.17 per hour.  I much prefer the SFO rides.  🙂


Posted in Uncategorized


  1. I’m sure you’re not a limo driver any more (this post is almost 5 years old!), but I found the information interesting! I always tip the drivers 20% 🙂

    Comment by Helene K — May 23, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

  2. If u are still driving hop onto and contribute there

    Comment by John — April 20, 2014 @ 10:47 am

  3. Or maybe you could move your talents to a different state. 🙂

    Comment by Torri — July 2, 2015 @ 2:39 pm

  4. Felt really bad by reading your post and the challenges you guys faced and dealed with it was just incredible. I had booked limo services for my sister’s wedding in Calgary from, you may feel free to visit them, Thanks!

    Comment by Avenall Patry — December 9, 2015 @ 2:38 am

  5. Please contact me if you are related, sorry for duplicate message! SFP Click

    Comment by mittienichols65803 — April 8, 2016 @ 7:29 am

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