We did a ride-along with Lyft veteran Bouchaib El Hassani in New York City to see what it’s all about.
Even amid the bitter war between Lyft and Uber, Bouchaib loves his job. He drives about 50 hours a week, setting his own work hours for when it’s most convenient.
“I get to know things that I wouldn’t otherwise know about other professions, and other states and cities. I learn a lot in this car,” he said to Business Insider. “Plus, the flexibility is great.”
Bouchaib has a perfect five-star rating, and he coaches new drivers though Lyft’s Mentor program.
Bouchaib is originally from Morocco. He's been driving full-time for a year now and joined Lyft when it first launched in New York City in July. He previously worked at a different ride-sharing company, but he didn't want to name names. 'As far as treating drivers, the others don't come close (to Lyft),' he told Business Insider.
Bouchaib, who has a five-star driver rating, is a Lyft Mentor, so he's the first point of contact for many new drivers. He and other Mentors -- generally the most experienced and highest-reviewed drivers on Lyft -- are responsible for preparing drivers and making sure their cars are in tip-top shape for driving. 'Sometimes I'll tell them to go wash their car or just present themselves in a better way,' he said.
In San Francisco, where Lyft was first launched in 2012, it's not uncommon to see cars with Lyft's trademark pink mustache attached to the grille of the car. But Lyft had to make some concessions to New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) before it could launch in the city this summer. Lyft can only operate here if it uses cars that have been licensed by the TLC. A giant mustache on the outside of the car happened to be against TLC regulations, so Bouchaib put some mini stuffed mustaches on his dashboard instead.
Bouchaib says his mustaches are often in danger of being stolen by his sometimes intoxicated late-night customers. Good thing he can always get more at the Lyft office.
After you account for TLC inspection, insurance, regular maintenance, and gas, keeping your car in good shape can get expensive. Bouchaib drives a Toyota Camry hybrid, which he says helps him cut down on costs. 'I probably wouldn't drive for a living with a regular car,' he said.
Late-night shifts tend to be the busiest, but he also works during the day, putting in about 50 hours a week. Bouchaib says the he enjoys the flexibility of the job because it allows him to pursue other things. He hopes to be able to go back to school for his bachelor's degree within a year. He also used to be a full-time tour guide, and he still gives tours every once in a while. He had lots of New York trivia to share with me during our ride.
When he's ready to make some money, he turns on the Lyft app to see if anyone nearby needs a ride. 'I try to base it on my energy, when I feel mentally prepared to take on a customer,' he said. Bouchaib lives near the airport in Queens, so sometimes he'll decide to pick up a few trips around there if he wants to stay closer to home.
Bouchaib goes to great lengths to make sure his passengers are comfortable. He keeps water, gum, and candy in the front seat. He usually plays unobtrusive jazz or classical music in the background -- unless his passengers ask him to play some techno to get pumped up for the night.
He also keeps three types of phone chargers -- for the iPhone 4, 5, and the Samsung Galaxy -- in case his passengers need to give their phones a boost. 'Sometimes, people just really need their phones!' he said, laughing.
Within the app, Lyft drivers can decide which map interface they want to use. Bouchaib thinks Waze is best for navigating traffic-congested areas like New York City because it crowdsources reports of obstacles or accidents. He says he's excited about the iPhone 6 Plus because of how great the enormous screen will be for GPS purposes.
But even with the help of navigation, you have to be ready for anything as a driver in New York City. Midtown Manhattan, which we have to drive through to get to our first customer, is notoriously busy.
After battling some traffic, we pick up Mayer, a young man who had just dropped off his car for some repairs. After we arrive to his destination in a quick five-minute trip, he says he'd use Lyft again.
It was his first time using Lyft, so his ride is free up to $US25. Mayer completes his payment through the app on his phone, but Bouchaib won't know how much he paid until later. 'It's not about the money, so that helps keep a good relationship with the passenger,' he said. The rider and driver give each other a rating out of five stars, which Bouchaib says helps eliminate bad behaviours on both ends. Drivers are less likely to be willing to pick up passengers with low scores, and drivers with bad reviews are eventually kicked off the service.
Working on your own schedule is all about balance. Bouchaib says he makes it a priority to stop for lunch, often with other Lyft drivers he's friends with. Today Bouchaib grabs some grub from a halal cart on the street.
Our second pick-up is Matt, who downloaded the Lyft app after using Uber for a few months. He has noticed some minor differences between the two companies, but has liked using Lyft for the most part. After he and his girlfriend rated one driver poorly after a bad experience, the Lyft team responded to them immediately to say that they were evaluating the driver.
Matt is in the process of moving, so Bouchaib helps him unload some boxes once we arrive to his apartment. 'Life is like a box of chocolates,' Bouchaib jokes.
But Bouchaib likes the variety of his job -- he gets to learn about lots of different things without ever leaving his car. Bouchaib once picked up a consultant, whom he pitched on his idea to open a rental car company. 'He showed me how it wouldn't be worth it,' he said. 'I appreciated that.'
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