I Give Strangers Rides, They Give Me Money

I’m a consistently broke grad student in a field with very little job opportunity living in a metro area saturated with people who want to be in my field. Money that doesn’t come with a repayment plan is scarce in my bank account. I’ve plugged the gaps left by my student loan with a nannying gig and driving strangers around town in my car.

My friend Jon has been driving for the “ride sharing” start-up Lyft since their early beta testing days, and he suggested that I—a person with a car and free time who is also not a serial killer—apply to be a driver. After Lyft checked my driving record, my background, gave me a phone interview, an in-person interview, and a training day, I was finally cleared to drive with a pink mustache leading the way (they make you put a pink mustache—”carstache“—on the grill of your car so riders know what car to get in). (It’s not my favorite.)

Do you have an image in mind of the type of person who uses a ride sharing start-up in San Francisco instead of a bus, the subway, a cab, a bicycle, or their feet? It is probably accurate.

Some of the people I have driven:

• Three Brits (and their American friend) here on H-1b visas working at Facebook who were doing a “fancy coffee” tour of the city

• A hedge fund investor who thinks women who don’t like walking places are undateable

• A guy who was on his way to Dolores Park to play tennis with a potential investor in his event sponsorship start-up

• At least five app developers

• A guy who works at Airbnb and is a DJ in his spare time

• A lady in a fancy neighborhood who was on her way to have her eyebrows threaded

• A girl who worked at a marijuana farm in Arcata over the summer

• A Dropbox employee headed to work early who gave me 10gb free when I told her I use Dropbox every day

• At least 4 East Coast transplants headed to the airport and home for holidays
 

This weekend I worked two 3 hour shifts, both 9am-12pm Saturday and Sunday morning. On Saturday morning I made $86 for 8 total rides and 3 hours of work. On Sunday morning I made $93 for 6 total rides and 3 hours of work. All together, I made $179, gave 14 rides, and worked 6 hours. So, before factoring in the cost of my car I made about $12.78 per ride and $29.83 per hour.

Now factoring in car costs. I used 1/4 of a tank of gas this weekend, which is 2.65 gallons of gas ($10.57 at $3.99/gal). My car payment is $299 per month, which comes out to $9.64 per day to have a car. I’m still on my dad’s car insurance, so my total cost of car ownership this weekend was $19.28.

And you might think, “Man, than is the most San Francisco thing I have ever heard.” But here’s the thing: all the people I’ve driven have been very nice, very friendly, very fun people who were respectful to my car and seemed to take a genuine interest in how my day was going and what I do when I’m not Lyft-ing. They were uniformly easy-going and appeared to pay the full suggested donation, plus tip (drivers don’t know how much each passenger pays per ride). While I wouldn’t want to be besties with every single passenger I’ve met, I wouldn’t mind driving them again, either. Many of them I’d love to meet for drinks after my shift. My experience has been in many ways exactly as Lyft bills itself, as “your friend with a car” (your friend with a car who drives you around and then you pay her).
 

Kate Dollarhyde lives in Oakland.

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23 Comments / Post A Comment

bgprincipessa (#699)

At first I thought my brain had stopped working, but no, the paragraph with all the numbers is just.. not full sentences right now…. Sounds like a really interesting service! I would definitely enjoy using it. Zipcar is great but not for one-way transportation.

Mike Dang (#2)

@bgprincipessa Huh! I’m not sure what’s going on there either. I’ll make sure Logan addresses.

@bgprincipessa logan editing fail. thx for catching!

julnyes (#2,807)

Am I missing some stereotypes about San Francisco and/or people who use ride shares? I have no preconceived notions at all that jibe with the tone of this article.

NeenerNeener (#156)

@julnyes I went from curious to see what my preconceived notions should have been (but I had none), to not understanding how I could have had any that matched with the seeming range of people.

ellabella (#1,480)

@NeenerNeener People with disposable income who like tech-startup-related things and being kind of alternative hip (it’s more alt than Uber woah so hip!)

NeenerNeener (#156)

@ellabella The hedge fund guy and fancy neighborhood lady threw me off.

julnyes (#2,807)

@NeenerNeener and where do the East Coast transplant people fit in?

@julnyes The East Coast transplant people definitely have their spot on the San Francisco Wheel of Stereotypes, but maybe it is a wheel we only share with ourselves? In any case, I meet a lot of former Midwesterners and East Coasters while driving who went to school for some kind of computer thing or finance thing. Hardly any Southerners, though. None, now that I think about it.

julnyes (#2,807)

@Kate Dollarhyde@twitter I know a lot of East Coast people who transplanted to SF, so of course that is a thing. I just don’t get how they are a type of person who uses ride shares. Maybe I just don’t see “From the East Coast of the USA” as a type. But, I am an East Coaster, so I wouldn’t know what is being said about us in San Francisco :)

I wonder if this exists in toronto. I can picture cab companies getting all worked up about it, but maybe it plays to a smaller demographic so it’s like, beneath their notice or something?

@redheaded&crazy Right now Lyft is only in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and I thiiiink they’re working on Seattle next. There might be a similar service in Toronto, though!

NoReally (#45)

Airbnb of the road. Are there numbers for how much untaxed income in CA and SF County this adds up to?

NeenerNeener (#156)

@NoReally It kind of looks like the payments go through Lyft, in which case I’d expect them to issue a 1099 to the drivers.

kthkskddn (#2,342)

@NoReally There is pushback from the CA public utilities commission and the taxi industry because services like Lyft don’t have commercial licenses (SF transportation agency keeps a pretty tight lid on the number of operating permits it gives out). Companies like Lyft argue that it’s more of a ridesharing service than a taxi service (because you use their app to arrange a ride, rate the driver etc.).

I don’t really know how to feel about this issue. I feel bad for cab drivers whose business is getting swiped, but pretty much anything is better than trying to hail a cab in SF. No, I know how I feel about this–I want them to fix MUNI and BART.

@NeenerNeener The payments go through Bill.com, who issue a 1099 if you’ve made over X amount of money, I think it’s $2,000. I didn’t hit that in 2012 because I starting driving right before Christmas. Lyft strongly encourages use to pay taxes on our income from them (but they can’t make you do your taxes, obviously) and says we’re supposed to file as self-employed. I’m in the depths of my taxes right now, actually, and figuring the Lyft money in without a 1099 while also trying to correctly report income from an unrelated 1099-MISC is driving me CRAZY.

@kthkskddn Lyft recently reached an interim agreement with the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates taxi services. The interim agreement allows Lyft to continue operation on the edge of law while the CPUC and services like Lyft (Sidecar and Uber) hammer out an agreement that suits the needs of the state, the law, and the ridesharing industry.
As for BART and MUNI, I hear you! I used to take MUNI everyday to get to school. A trip from Castro station to !9th and Holloway could often take more than an hour. Now I live in Oakland and commute to school with BART everyday and that usually takes about 50 minutes. BART is much more reliable than MUNI, and they’ve been trying out a new pilot program that will allow bikes on the trains during rush hour. Unfortunately prices are about to go up on BART as well, but they’ve had record ridership for the past few years and desperately need to upgrade their trains and facilities, so I’m not sweatin’ it.

NeenerNeener (#156)

@Kate Dollarhyde@twitter
You should get a 1099 for anything over $600.
If you’re not already, you should keep a mileage log so you can write off mileage against the income. (I’m a tax/accounting lady)

chic noir (#713)

In Baltimore, this sort of thing is called a “hack” or unlicensed taxi drivers aka anyone with a car looking to make a few extra bucks.

tuntastic (#2,769)

No but wait is this your name for realsies though? It’s a pun right? It’s got to be a pun.

chflx (#4,332)

interesting idea, although i’m surprised that this is legal, i thought unlicensed cabs were quite a problem in some cities

Patric Viera (#6,825)

Car is more luxurious vehicle to visit anywhere you want. Luxury car service now provided by several car rental companies also. These car rental companies are now very much famous for their car sharing service. As a responsible car operator, one should properly care his/her car. He/She should take care of car windshield, car door and other car internal and external parts as well. It is the responsibility of a car user to replace the damaged car parts also. Smartphone application is quite effective in Smart cars these days. Smart cars are enable with car infotainment technology. This is really necessary for the Car safety. Smart car service also very necessary for a Smart car user for the good performance and increase in efficiency of the car.

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