Ben sells out: Or why I started driving for Lyft

I am generally critical and skeptical about the "sharing economy" and all of the "singularity" type hype around it. I generally believe that Airbnb and Uber are both fairly negative in the way they assert themselves in municipal government.

However, that doesn't change the fact that I need money and would like to get a better handle on my debts. That is to say, I'd like to have as few debts as possible. And while I'm generally pretty frugal, having more money to throw at it would be more motivating than waiting around for years and years at the rate i'm paying them down now.

So after I had to get a "new" (it's a 2012 model) car, I figured I would put it to use for Lyft. Lyft is the casual, less bro-y version of Uber. It's still clearly a rather boring "rideshare" business at its heart with a different color scheme. I have no qualms with people trying to make money given the system they’ve been presented with, but I think that Uber is just kind of dickish about the way they’ve gone about it.

Also, Lyft drivers get to keep 100% of their tips, whereas Uber takes 20% of the total. They also just have a friendlier demeanor. I know they are less popular in Chicago, but I also like to think that might mean slightly less driver competition.
Uber also offers a pretty big bonus ($500, at least for now) for Lyft drivers who become Uber drivers. Between the Lyft driver bonus and a potential Uber “traitor bonus”, that’s $850 (potentially). I may hate Uber, but I hate Uber far less than I love the idea of them giving me $500.

Signing up and getting setting up

This has to be the single best/easiest part of the whole deal. If you have your stuff together and schedule things correctly, you could be working in about a week. There are no interviews, no BS. If you have a decent car you can drive. That's it.

The first trip up for me, though, was learning that in the bigger markets like Chicago, Lyft doesn't do 1:1 "mentor sessions." Instead you attend a kind of cattle call where you basically get processed and your car is quickly inspected.

Now, I have a slight bone to pick with how Lyft presents the "mentor session." It's not a mentor session at all. In fact, the person that is your "mentor" isn't even a Lyft driver. All they do is inspect the car, fill out some of Lyft's paperwork and then give you a crash course on the app. There isn't much else to it. Now, being a Lyft driver is not a particularly complicated thing, but if you present it as a "mentor session" I figured there might be a little bit more of an educational element to it. Not that I felt that it was missing anything, but if I'm just going to get processed, just call it an "onboarding" session or just inspection. Lyft likes to pretend like they're some sort of friendly community. They're not. they're a business first and foremost. It's one thing to be kinder and gentler and then there's just BSing yourself.

The inspector took photos of my car and I, but because it was during a snowstorm Lyft contacted me later that night to ask for retakes of both. It seems like while Lyft is fairly slow for support responses, they are pretty attentive to driver on-boarding and it looks like all those kinks are worked out now. 

Tuesday morning at 5am I got a text message from Lyft saying I was approved to drive.

Getting out there and doing it

Wednesday, ahead of Thanksgiving, was a half day at work, so I decided I would use that afternoon as my first time lyfting. It was also advantageous since I live farther away from Chicago so I would save a little money on gas getting into Lyft's coverage area.

I switched into Driver mode once I was on the highway, just North of Evanston. Only about five minutes later I got my first ride request. I hit the "accept" button and the app automatically input the destination in Waze so I got there in the five minutes Lyft advertised.

Just a moment here to talk about hitting that "accept" button. Lyft keeps tabs on how often drivers accept ride requests, and give some perks to drivers who keep a high (over 90%) acceptance rate. So don't enter driver mode unless you're intending to pick folks up.

The only minor headache about picking up my first rider was that they were at a building with a rather complicated entrance/ramp/exit structure so I had to navigate this kind of odd setup to even get to the rider. Once I got to the rider, it was a fairly perfunctory "hello," confirm the destination, and then head off.

$12, and about 15 minutes of driving. Not bad.

My first day of Lyft driving was off to an alright start. It's not the "single serving friends" kind of deal that Lyft seems to imply in their advertising, but it's nice and casual. I also happen to like driving my car, which makes a huge difference, though Chicago traffic may add some gray hairs.

My day consisted of only 2 rides, the other being out to O'hare, which put my total for the day at $42 for about two hours of total driving. I had family coming in for Thanksgiving, so as soon as I dropped off the rider, I switched off driver mode. Another huge win for Lyft: setting your own hours. 

I am a little worried about hitting that 50 rider bonus in my first month, but I will try for a few weekend stints to boost that number. Less trips to O'hare if I can avoid it too.