A Reporter Drove For Lyft For A Week And Didn't Make Close To The Company's $35-An-Hour Claim

AP870993960039APA Lyft car with its trademark pink moustache next to a yellow taxi in San Francisco.

Much has been written about 
Uber’s promise that drivers can make $US90,000 a year versus how much its drivers are really making.

Not much has been written, however, about how much drivers are making working for Lyft, an on-demand car service that operates much like Uber.

Lyft says its drivers can make $US35 an hour. Vox editor Timothy Lee decided to conduct an experiment to see how much he could make.

After a week, Lee had driven 54 passengers and made $US596. His earnings came to about $US10.50 an hour.

Buzzfeed says Uber drivers are, on average, making $US34,164 annually, or roughly $US21.95 an hour. But it’s important to note there is no “average” Uber driver because every driver operates at different times for different reasons: some drive on weekends as supplementary income, for example, while others rely on “gig” economy jobs to make a living.

In the case of Lyft, however, Lee says made significantly more money because Lyft was running a promotion when he signed up: If drivers worked at least 50 hours and picked up 50 customers, they’d make at least $US1,500 per week, or $US30 an hour. Lyft paid the difference to drivers if they made less than $US1,500 per week.

“That works out to an average compensation of $US30 per passenger, which was a little crazy since I didn’t have a single passenger who paid more than $US25,” Lee said.

He also pointed out a huge problem with companies like Lyft offering incentives for driving: they’re not sustainable, they’re temporary (Lee says this specific promotion ended a few weeks after his experiment), and they invite opportunists who could stop driving for the company as soon as the incentive disappears.

Presumably, this promotion was intended to help beef up Lyft’s group of drivers to better compete with services like Uber. To date, Lyft has raised $US332.5 million in VC funding, while Uber has raised an astonishing $US3.3 billion.

After talking to other Lyft drivers at a holiday party, Lee noted he made slightly less than what other Lyft drivers make, but his income wasn’t an outlier by any means. He said, however, that Lyft drivers he spoke to were “generally positive about their Lyft experience,” despite any frustrations with their earnings.

Part of this could be because of Lyft’s culture. Lyft heavily promotes a feeling of community among its drivers, which complements its casual riding experience. Riders are encouraged to fist-bump their driver and sit in the front seat of their cars, instead of in the back like in an Uber vehicle or a taxi. Lyft holds holiday parties, like the one Lee attended, for its drivers, and offers new drivers a Lyft mentor: a more experienced driver who serves as a first point of contact for newbies.

Lee’s experiment left him sceptical about Lyft’s claims of what drivers can earn. Check out Lee’s whole account on Vox here

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