Driving for Lyft in Sacramento
Grinding out a living behind the wheel
By Rob Cockerham |
Before I got my amazing job at Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, I drove for Lyft. Five or six days a week I'd fire up the Lyft driver app, check the map and hit the road. It's been an adventure. The money isn't great, but the job is dead easy and pretty fun.
I sure didn't want to do it forever. The money was pretty thin, it can be hard on your body and there isn't any chance for career advancement.
In three months I provided 1,275 rides to 1,268 different people, almost all of them in Sacramento. Every day driving was a mix of people going to work, leaving school, seeing the doctor and getting home from the bar.
I've got to tell you about some of my favorite experiences and discoveries.
1. The Airport is Lyft and Uber Centrale
Because there are always passengers arriving at the airport, there are always Lyft and Uber drivers there. Sacramento set up a special parking lot for them, at the edge of the airport. I've seen as few as 4 Lyft drivers there, and as many as 60. The rides are fairly distributed, so the driver who has been waiting there the longest gets the next ride. Sometimes it is a great ride, 30 miles to Roseville. Sometimes it is a $10 ride downtown.
When I had only been driving for Lyft a few weeks, I picked up a passenger who needed a ride to Orland, CA. Neither one of us knew where that was, but Google navigation had the answer: 100 miles north.
It was my first $100 ride.
2. Sometimes you bring hot women home from a winery
I would be lying if I didn't admit there is a fantasy of picking up hot drunk strangers and being lured into their pillow fights, but it never happened. They are fun, loud trips, but are more likely to mock your Spotify choices and leave their weave in the car than to invite you to their slumber party dance contest.
3. Your car has to be clean
One of the claims of Lyft driving is that you can do it anytime, fire up the app and start driving for money. But, you have to have a really clean car when you pick people up, so you will spend some time and money cleaning the inside and out, all the time. When I drove full-time, I had a monthy subscription at a car wash. It is kind of nice having a clean car, but anyone could have one if they vaccuumed the back seat 250 times a year.
I recommend a floormat-only dishwasher.
4. You need to find places to pee.
Because you aren't really in control of where your car ends up, you can find yourself pretty far away from a bathroom. Gas stations are my go-to, but I've seen 10 kinds of "out of order" signs on gas station restrooms. Sometimes you have to waltz into a Chili's in Concord and take advantage of the restroom.
Davis, San Francisco and Downtown Sacramento are notoriously tough places to pee. If you are ever mad about homeless people peeing (etc.) in alleys, remember that there is a legion of Lyft and Uber drivers depending on the facilities of others to keep from exploding.
The outhouse pictured above is in the middle of a parking lot ideally suited for dropping UCDavis students off at class. One day I checked the lock and saw that it was set to the proper combination: 4142. Now I have a private bathroom in Davis.
5. So many lost phones
Approximately once a week someone leaves their phone in the backseat. I usually notice fast enough to run after them, but sometimes I have to drive back to their house to return the phone.
My craziest phone return story was when Ryan got drunk and left his phone under the front seat. It was about one in the morning. My next passenger found it, so I drove back to his house, where he had stumbled inside about 30 minutes earlier. No one answered the door, so I assumed he was passed out inside. The door was ajar, so I took a chance and walked in to leave it on the counter in the mud room.
I left him a note to fill in the details. I didn't hear back.
I am always quick to return phones, and they never reward you for driving back to their place, but it is still pretty satisfying to see the joy on their face.
6. You break the rules
Sometimes someone asks you to drive with six people in the car. Sometimes a young couple needs to get to West Sacramento without a car seat. Sometimes someone asks if you can drive them to Lo Brau for $5 cash, because they don't have any money in their debit account. Sometimes they ask if you know where they can buy coke. (I don't.)
They are always polite about it.
7. You Learn Secrets
I drove some kids to their jobs at fast food restaurants. McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, every one of them. On one trip delivering two roommates to their jobs at Chick-fil-a, I learned that the workers strive to beat the sales number of the previous year. This is their annual goal, to beat last year's sales number by 17%.
What do they get if they achieve this tough goal? The restaurant owner gets a new car!
OR! The restaurant gets a new piece of equipment, like a new fryer or slide-out chest freezer. Guess what they usually choose? The new car!
Hooray! Congratulations everyone! The store owner gets a car! Literally the richest person in the building is rewarded for everyone's hard work all year.
Some Lyft Memories with Photos
Here is a photo from a ride which originated in a bad neighborhood. A big stray dog was wandering around the garbage cans and the street was stuffed with old cars crowding every curb. On this trip I was summoned by a pregnant woman and her luggage and family to bring her downtown for a scheduled birth by Caesarian Section.
One late night I was summoned to pick up a beautiful woman from a strip club at 3am.
I was ready to quit for the night, but it was a titilating prospect, so I drove out to the strip club area of town and found her and her friend. They were not strippers, they were two young women who had been coaxed out to a strip club by their male companions. They were completely disappointed. What sounded like a fun way to end a drinking night was sobering in every way. There was no liquor at the strip club, and the place was almost empty. They had spent $60 bucks to take a Lyft out there and they were going to spend another $20 to get home.
"Strip clubs suck." they assured me.
The group's first Lyft ride, their ride out to the club, had been during +300% Primetime, where prices were four times as high as standard. That $60 ride had been on the Lyft account of the young woman who was now riding home in my car.
"I can't be spending $60 on a lyft ride to a strip club. Thank GOD Toby gave me money for that ride. He said he would, but I was very relieved when he actually handed me the money."
"I worked all day and barely made $60, I can't blow it on a stupid trip to the strip club I didn't even want to take."
"Ugh, strip clubs are so dumb!"
I dropped them off in Rosemont. I was not invited to their late-night skinny-dipping pool party.
It was about 3:45am when they called me back.
"Did I leave $60 in the back of your car?"
Dammit! There it was, sitting in the back of the car. Three $20 bills folded into a little rectangle. I should have gone back the next day, but I turned around and went back to Rosemont. This never would have happened in the Taxi age. She was very, very grateful to see me and get the $60 bucks back.
Sometimes you meet people and get side work out of it. One guy had a standing obligation to deliver his infant child to his ex-girlfriend every Tuesday afternoon. We negotiated a $60 price for a trip from Sacramento to Santa Rosa. While I was in Santa Rosa, I would drive Lyft in the bay area, where rates were higher.
On one of those trips, I brought three huge bards to a renaissance fair at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. It was a $50 trip and my first time visiting the Cow Palace. They had only had time to drink three of their beers, so they tipped me the three unopened beers. I had $100 before I went back up to Santa Rosa. These were long, valuable days.
Here is a picture of the Sacramento airport at dawn during a rain storm. This is the fewest Lyft drivers that will ever be at the Sacramento Airport.
A few times it was incredibly windy out there, with the airport port-a-poties blowing around in the lot. On one stormy night a bunch of the drivers huddled in a bus shelter and complained about the driving conditions.
"I'm risking my life out here on the road! For what? $6?! This is crazy. We are out here and the Lyft company is making tons of money off of us, sitting home in their warm house!"
He had a point, but I don't think he is right about Lyft making tons of money. I think in this phase of the business they are still pouring that money back into the business, advertising, offering specials, recruiting drivers with bonuses and specials, partnering with rental places. They are making this market. Training the entire population of the USA to install, use and depend on the Lyft app and drivers.
One time I almost got used as a getaway car.
I was parked at 10th and K street downtown and got a call for a ride in front of Coin Op, an arcade bar. I whipped around the corner to find a guy standing in the street with frosted tips..
"Hey, are you my ride? One sec, let me grab my skateboard."
Immediately two cops pulled up and jumped out of their cars. "Hold it!" They stopped him and walked my passenger over to their car, searching him. Apparently he had taken a swing at one of the bouncers downstairs, saw his escape route closing and and had run up to make a getaway, but he didn't make it.
"Are you his lyft ride?" The cop asked me.
"He is not going to need you".
Here is a picture of the wallet a lovely woman left in my car this spring. She was on her way to her job at Roxy cafe on R Street.
When I returned her wallet, she made me a nice sandwich! This was the best reward I got the entire time I drove Lyft.
Here are some keys a med student left in my car. If he becomes a surgeon, maybe he will leave these in you!
They also remind me of a trip I gave to two women in West Sacramento, what appeared to be a mother and her adult daughter. They were speaking a language that was not english, and I didn't recognize it at all. After about 10 minutes I asked, "What language are you speaking?"
"Zulu. We are from South Africa. We actually prefer a different name, because 'South Africa' is really just a location name."
"There is no other country in Africa which is named for its location."She proposed.
I wanted to impress her, but I tried to stay playful about it.
I'm pretty good at African geography. "What about Equatorial Guinea?" She smiled, "Well, that helps position it, but it is still Guinea."
"Hmm, Central African Republic"? She winced.
This gal realized that a Lyft rider app is the perfect place to create a hilarious profile. She was not that shitty and her group of friends was super nice.
Here's a screenshot of one of my biggest single ride payouts. It was a ride home from an Ed Sheeren concert at the Golden One Center. Two women from Orangevale didn't count on the high demand for Lyft rides, and were too young to kill time at a bar while the demand died down. They were stuck paying top dollar. Even when I was the direct beneficiary, I felt bad taking this much money from them. My malaise was tempered when they started talking about their floor tickets, but that's still a huge dollar penalty. I'll spend it well.
Driving for Lyft
When I was driving for Lyft, and I'm sure it holds true today, the money isn't usually very good. In Sacramento, for most times and days, I was making $8-$13 per hour, and I was paying for gas, and putting a ton of miles on my own car. On Friday and Saturday nights, demand is much higher, so I was making about $20 an hour, with an occasional bonanza ride at $40 or more.
It is better than a $12/hour job, because you meet nice people who really need you and appreciate the low price of the service. You don't have a boss, and the earnings are pretty directly related to time clocked in. Another interesting factor is that you can keep working for more than eight hours if you need to make more money. The app will log you out after 14 hours to make sure you don't get loopy from working too much.
Lyft is better when it is an "on the side" moneymaker than your full time, gotta-pay-my-mortgage job. Driving for Lyft or Uber can really help you work your way out of any $400 problem.
If you are interested in signing up, you should definitely use my referal code: www.lyft.com/drivers/ROB664450. You'll get an extra $200 after 75 rides (within 30 days of starting) in Sacto, and some other bonus elsewhere.