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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