That Time I Was A Lyft Driver

I just got done reading Mr. Money Mustache’s new post on driving for Uber, which brought back some feels.  Then I found Mad Money Monster’s interview with an Uber driver!  It seems like rideshare driving is one of the less talked about side hustles out there, but in my opinion one of the more profitable (and social) ones.

See, when I moved here a few summers ago and was on “sabbatical”, I took up Lyft driving as a way to make extra money.  This was in 2014, and a lot has changed (Pete’s post was about his experience in 2016).

For starters, I think I got in at a really lucrative time – Lyft had arrived just a few months before I did, so it was a fairly new concept – there also weren’t a ton of drivers.  I also live in the perfect city for it – minimal public transportation but a city big enough to support a happening night life (more importantly, where EVERY night was happening) and the only options being driving drunk or taking a cab.  Design and traffic-wise, think “The Next Atlanta”.

Anyways, I signed up and was ready to go within a couple weeks, pink mustache and all (you don’t get a big pink mustache anymore, just a dashboard sign).  It was a Sunday afternoon and I did 6 rides in about 2 hours of driving.  I think I made around $75.  Pretty good!

That summer I averaged around 30-40 hours of driving a week and was pulling in around $500 a week.  I eventually put together what I still think are some good tips for anyone interested in driving:

  • An efficient car is king.  I have a Corolla, which got great gas mileage despite a lot of city driving and is cheap to maintain.  A car with a low upfront cost (a Prius is great, but how many miles to you have to drive for it to become more profitable than a cheaper car?)
  • Drive as little as possible.  I mean this in 2 ways:
    • Don’t drive around looking for rides.  Pick a spot and sit.  If you’re changing spots, use the highway.  Driving without a passenger is a waste of time and money.  (I heard an interview with a guy talking about his Lyft driving experience who said he made $200 in a night but drove 250 miles over 8 hours to do it!  Less car costs and taxes, he actually keeps maybe a third of what he “made”.
    • Figure out the best hours and try to only drive those.  I found when I tried to do 40 hours a week, I was driving during the slower times where I’d only get 1 or 2 rides an hour.  At best, my take home was around $10 an hour.  Depending on your city, there’s probably 15-25 hours in the week where you can consistently get 2-4 rides EVERY hour (minimal time without a passenger).  Drive those, and spend the extra 10 or 15 hours on something else.
  • Be honest with yourself:  Are you a good driver?  You might not have an accident on your record, but that doesn’t mean you’re a good driver.  Are you comfortable driving in the city?  At night?  With people (probably drunk and maybe rowdy) in the car?  Can you make conversation and focus on where you’re going and people crossing the street and traffic?  You need to ask yourself these.  I can’t tell you how many drivers I notice don’t even seem comfortable with the act of driving – they stomp on the gas, slam on the brakes, seem impatient behind the wheel, and don’t seem relaxed at all.  I mean, you’re getting paid to drive people around, right?

I’m probably weird in that I actually really enjoy driving – I find it relaxing.  I’m not the most outgoing person, but I like to think I’m pretty quick-witted and like making jokes, so entertaining people is something that I can do if need be.

I did put a lot of extra miles on my car (around 200-300 a week) and it was certainly frustrating driving the slower times.  I found the night time bar scene a lot more lucrative and exciting, despite them being shorter city trips.  Between 1-3am was the most lucrative time (when bars close – EVERYBODY needs a ride so you always get surge fares) and I found Saturday nights more profitable than Friday nights (I suspect most part time drivers wanted at least one weekend night to themselves).

I’ve actually been thinking about getting back into driving.  My schedule is pretty set so I could easily do at least 10 profitable hours a week, and I’ve been working on building up side income.  But the truth is that after working/being surrounded by people and “on” 55 hours a week, I’m in no mood to do it for another 10-15.  At this point, I’d rather write.  In 2014 my girlfriend was working and I wasn’t.  I was in a new town and had a lot of time to myself.  Even as an introvert, it got lonely.  So driving was an income stream and fulfilled a need.

I’ve done a night here or there, and it’s not the same as that summer of freedom.  There’s more drivers, so it’s more competitive.  I’m not craving the social interaction, so it’s not as fulfilling.  I have a list of other projects I want to do, and it’s just “extra money”, so there’s no immediate need.

That being said, I really loved doing it.  And the times I’ve gone back, I still enjoyed it, and probably could again if it weren’t for work.  I met a lot of interesting people, learned a lot about the city I’d just moved to, and have some great stories (including one about a couple who broke up in my back seat – awkward at the time, but makes for a good response to “What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen as a driver?”)

Oh yeah.  And I got paid.

More tidbits:

Some people bake cookies or offer bottled water.  I tried these and found they didn’t really help.  Candy is always popular for good ratings and cheap.

For entertainment, get a couple books of MadLibs – I drove a mom and her kids once and the kids loved them just as much as a group of people coming back from a bar.  Sometimes it helps when your passengers can entertain themselves.

Also, Sam at Financial Samurai has several articles talking about his experiences driving for Uber (as an already early retiree).  Here’s the first one, and I recommend doing a search and reading through the rest.

Finally, if you do decide to try it out, use this link (if it gets you a bonus, of course).

4 thoughts on “That Time I Was A Lyft Driver

  1. Thanks for linking to my article. I had fun interviewing my brother for it. And I also saw Mr. Money Mustache’s article last week. I’m sure there’s truth in his article, as well. You definitely need an efficient car and have to be smart about when and where to drive. Thanks for pointing that out!

    1. You’re welcome! I had just got done reading the MMM article and then I queued up Feedly and yours was at the top! I think it was fate! It’s interesting to hear perspectives from others who have done ridesharing as a side hustle – I think it can definitely be lucrative, but it’s not as easy (at first I think) as setting up a blog or something like that.

  2. Depending on your city, you should totally consider trying your hand at doing deliveries with your bike! I’ve been doing that for over 2 years now and just have a blast doing it. It’s my favorite thing to do – you basically get paid to exercise! If you think about it, it’s the perfect little side hustle you can do since we can all use exercise, especially if we’re stuck at a desk all day. Even better, your costs with doing food deliveries on a bike are minimal – no gas, no mileage on your car, and you get the benefit of improved health, which some might say is priceless.

    1. This is a great point! I’ve really been thinking about biking a lot lately, I think it’s the next step for me. I’ve worked a lot on reducing my car usage this year and focusing on health is one of my 2018 goals, so I’m going to take this post as inspiration and do some digging. Health and profits sounds like pretty good motivation to me!

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