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I live in NYC metro area and use public transit for shopping.

One advantage of public transit is the ability to do other things while the bus drivers and train conductors work. Reading books, doing puzzles, knitting and other needlework, writing, planning, surfing the Internet.

I set my overall hourly rate based on the time it takes to do the shops--including the searching, reading, entering data, responding to questions--but not travel time on public transit unless I'm doing a route outside my area. (In that case I would be driving.) I also do not include required purchases as part of the pay. (Other shoppers may do things differently.)

Pre-pandemic I did not shop unless I could net (after all expenses) at least $25 per hour for at least 4 hours of fun. It's harder today due the numbers of MS companies and shopping venues that are no longer in business, and the types of shops that have not yet returned (like airport routes).

When I started this in 2007, rates were reasonable enough that a person could net $10 to $40 per hour in this area per workday (2-8 hours) depending on the types of shops. (Restaurants paid the least; video shops paid much more but also required more skill and extra equipment.) It is different now, with the overall trend much much lower; like you said, it's hard to make more than a few dollars per hour now.

From what I've observed, it's almost impossible to make a living doing only mystery shopping without access to a car. A car opens up lucrative routes, allows you to reach suburban locations with higher pay, cuts down on overall time spent getting to and from locations, serves as an office where paperwork, clothing disguises, and other materials can be kept. Using a car also allows more expenses to be written off on taxes, and opens up auto-related shops.
MS companies don't generally reimburse for ride-share services unless they are evaluating a specific one. You can deduct ride share fees from taxes but you have to keep good records.
When I worked in the city, I took public transportation to work. During my hour lunch, I would do shops walking distance from the job. The fees were generally higher due to the location. I would do the bulk of the reports on the ride home (if feasible).

The shops I did were cell phones, apartments, libraries,QSRs, banks. None of the MSCs offered to reimburse for commuting.

"There's so much trouble in this world; surrounded by miracles" - Citizen Cope
Some companies will reimburse for special transit/driving expenses in some situations. Parking fees or special shuttle fees at airports, for example. And one company would sometimes reimburse tolls--a big deal here in NYC, which is made up of a bunch of islands connected via bridges and tunnels. (Bronx is the only part of NYC attached to the mainland.) There is $8-$20 in tolls in each direction just to go through the tunnels or across the bridges by car. So to get a hard location shopped the MS company would sometimes authorize a reimbursement--but it was not an everyday thing.
I use public transit extensively when away from home base and have used it to get to shops in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Except to/from/between airports where its MSC reimbursed, I just keep track and expense it.
I shopped regularly for a period of about five years when I didn't have a car, using either public transportation or, when weather allowed, my bicycle. (I even figured out a way to bike to the major airport where I was a badged shopper.) Even though I could frequently put together nice little groups of nearby shops, or find a shop near somewhere I was already going, I think it would be pretty much impossible to make anything approaching a full time salary shopping a metro area on public transit. Even with bank and apartment shops you'd pretty quickly go through the ones in the areas best served by transit before you get into outer areas which might involve a complicated and lengthy trip that would eat up too much of your day to be worthwhile.

However, public transit shopping is great for lifestyle shoppers (finish that integrity bar shop drink, you're not driving) or for making a few extra bucks on the side. I always get $30 to shop a MF burger shop that is listed as "difficult" because there is no guaranteed parking, even paid, nearby -- it's a college area with mostly resident only parking spots. And I can certainly finish that burger shop's report on my phone on the bus ride, so I arrive home without any reports hanging over my head. I wonder if any passengers thought it was odd I was staring intently at my receipt while I typed in the lengthy transaction number. I could also read or catch up on texts/emails. While I wouldn't have asked a friend or relative to take me to a retail shop, there were plenty of times where they happily drove me to a dining or bar shop so they could be my guest. MarketForce, A Closer Look, and DataQuest all have shops that will pay for parking, and occasionally other MSC schedulers will agree to do so if you ask -- and of course there are parking lot and valet shops.

I got a car shortly before Covid. During the peak of Covid I decided it was better to do further, higher paying shops (especially ones where I knew masking and distancing would be feasible) than to take the risk of doing a lot of shorter ones closer to home. I like driving and got to enjoy lots of podcasts and radio shows. I also made a point of finding nice little nature preserves/hiking trails near each shop where I could stretch my legs before walking home.

Now, however, as my state has fully reopened, traffic has returned, and my interest in staying out an extra hour so I can grab that dinner burger shop has evaporated -- coming home that close to rush hour would really lengthen my day. I have a new job helping out a friend at her office a few days a week. While the pay won't come close to matching my best shopping days, it'll also be a lot better than my worst shopping days, and I can continue to take the shops that pay well or that my family enjoys.

Finally, the OP talks about shoppers here saying they make $60 an hour. I really wouldn't get hung up on that number. Sure, every experienced shopper has had days where they made that, or a lot more. But given how familiar most of the people who post here are with bread and butter $15-$20 hour shops, it's clear that many of us are not making anything approach that every hour of every day. I personally use different factors for every shop I accept or decline, including not just pay, but also ease of report, my relationship with the MSC, guidelines, etc. If you find using transit relaxing and you can get other things done, you can factor in that time a lot differently than if you find it stressful and annoying.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/05/2021 05:04PM by NinS.
I have never used public transportation for mystery shopping, unless I was paid to do so as part of a mystery shop. There are basic prerequisite tools for this business, such as computer, car, and smartphone or printer are also useful. These tools are necessary expenses and may or may not be tax deductible, but you either need to have them or pay someone to use their tool. Every mystery shopper should have applied for and received a PPP forgiveable loan during the pandemic and used the money to buy tools for their business.
I've found shops in north NJ and in NYC get bonused much more than shops in FL. I attributed this to the locations behind "hard to shop" and the fact that many shoppers shy away from MF burger shops/ The Source ink shops where there is no parking. I've made quite a bit of money taking these shops and routinely get schedulers asking if I can take them. I recently even took a cigar shop in NYC because the scheduler couldn't find anyone...

But to answer the question, I drive, walk, bike or take the path/subway and factor in the time/cost.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/05/2021 06:23PM by Capurato.
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