Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
You win, Lyft. I?m out.
Note that this piece won?t serve as a long-form tirade against Lyft. There?s enough of those on Reddit. Rather, this will be an honest, data-supported look at the five weeks I wasted trying to make money with Express Drive instead of doing something more productive and profitable with my life.
Mind you, my lack of success is just as much my fault as it is the driver-unfriendly platform that Lyft has become. I admit this, I accept this and, at night in front of the mirror by myself, I loathe this.
For those unfamiliar with Express Drive, let me explain. When you drive for Lyft, you can use your own vehicle or rent a vehicle through Lyft?s Express Drive program. The rental costs roughly $240/week, and at least 20 rides must be given in order to be eligible for renewal the following week. Yes, in earning cash you must first earn back the rental cost, but Lyft has worked in a system where the more rides you give, the more you can reduce from the rental.
Currently, 85 rides/week nets you a $75 reduction from the rental cost, 110 rides/week a $120 reduction, and 135 rides/week a $200 reduction; therefore, if you can manage giving 135 rides or more over the course of seven days (so roughly 19 rides/day), you only pay $40 for the car rental.
In theory, maybe this seems okay? Then again, so did Bush?s No Child Left Behind Act and, as a former high school teacher, I can confirm: Wasn?t okay.
The Pros of Express Drive
- No car? No problem. Lyft gives you the car and you?re free to use it for anything, meaning you needn?t worry about the miles you accrue while not driving Lyft passengers around.
- Lyft covers maintenance and insurance for the rented vehicle.
- For those wary of extra wear-and-tear on their personal vehicles, Express Drive frees you from that liability (given you don?t drive the rental car off a bridge).
The Cons of Express Drive
Everything else. Seriously. All of it.
Here?s the thing ? I know there?s Lyft drivers out there who hit the 135 ride count. Kudos to them (you). BUT (capital letters intended), in order to accomplish this, the amount of required driving time is insane.
I talked to a driver a few days back who told me he typically drives from 8am-8pm six days/week. Again, kudos if that?s your thing (and I completely understand the grind for a paycheck) but?
?No thanks? That?s over 70 hours of sitting in a vehicle (and, depending on where you live, always in traffic), for what amount of money? Plus, all drivers pay for their own gas, regardless of whether or not the car is rented through Lyft. So in reality, there?s pre-gas earnings and post-gas earnings. I currently live and drove in Los Angeles ? gas ain?t cheap!
Lyft loves flooding the internet with its ads that flaunt phrases like ?Make up to $25/hour!? There?s two key words in that phrase, though: Make and up. That?s a not-so-subtle way for Lyft to cover its own butt. In my own experience, the real number fluctuates between $16?18/hour, but if drivers complain, it?s easy for Lyft to just answer with ?Well, we said you could ?make up? to that amount, not that you would.?
And you won?t. Have I had $20 hours? Of course. Do they last? Of course not. And when you?re already struggling to pay off a rental car, the nonprofitable hours hurt really bad.
So now the fun part. My week-by-week failure with this program. Again, I accept responsibility for my own cataclysmic demise. I told myself I was the person who could tolerate being behind the wheel for 50+ hours/week if need be.
Turns out I am not that person.
Alright, because this is an incomplete screenshot, let me paint the entire picture for you (but, in case you?re already wondering, yes ? I made $5.12 for over 9 hours of driving).
My initial earnings from 21 rides were $141.85. Add $11.17 for Prime Time (driving during Lyft?s peak hours ? typically between 6:30?10am and 3:30?8pm). Then, not pictured is $18.39 in tips and $5.00 earned for a passenger that didn?t show up. Altogether: $176.41.
When I picked up the first available rental car, Lyft?s ?work? week had already begun; as such, my rental cost was lowered to $171.29. Subtract that from my total earnings and you get?
?$5.12. Look out, Malibu, I?m coming for one of your mansions!
I gave 21 rides, so just enough to keep my rental and nowhere near enough to qualify for even the first tier of reduced rental costs. This being my first week (and having started late), I still remained cautiously optimistic.
However, before we move on, let?s smite that cautious optimism with further stats. I gave 21 rides in just over 9 hours of driving. That?s right over 2 an hour (even on weekend days!). If I continued at this rate, I would need to have driven ~36 hours to hit the first rental deduction, ~47 hours to hit the second rental deduction and, if I simultaneously bought out Starbucks, ~60 hours to pay only $40 for my rental car.
Oh but wait, let?s make things even more grotesque. My final earnings were $5.12. I also paid ~$40 for gas, of which I used approximately $20.
Depressing Statistic #1: At 9 hours of driving, I made ~$.57/hour.
Depressing Statistic #2: Factor in gas and I made ~ -$1.65/hour.
Hey! Almost $40! I was able to grocery shop!
TOTAL EARNINGS (earnings, prime time, tips, no-shows): $278.45
AFTER RENTAL (note that the $219 amount is before tax): $38.65
AVERAGE RIDES/HOUR: 2
AVERAGE $/HOUR: $2.62
Week 2 was really where I should have woken up from my twisted, maniacal, hobgoblin nightmare.
I had moved to Los Angeles a month prior and was simply using Lyft for supplemental income while sticking my hands in several other cookie jars, and that was my biggest mistake.
My own vehicle is not here (clearly). I?ve been prepping to ship it, but I should have just bit the bullet, thrown forward the credit card, and brought the car out immediately.
$278 (minus ~$60 in gas) for a couple hours each morning when I?m trying to make ends meet? Sure!
Instead, because I was renting a car, this turned into the dismal numbers above. Factor in the gas again and yes, I technically made negative dollars, while still not even coming CLOSE to the first tier of the ride bonus.
But, perhaps because I have some unrealized masochistic tendencies, I shrugged off the glaring fact that I couldn?t/wouldn?t commit 50+ hours to this and jumped off the cliff again to?
TOTAL EARNINGS: $251.43
AFTER RENTAL: $23.63
AVERAGE RIDES/HOUR: 2
AVERAGE $/HOUR: $1.55
Horrifying ?Why in God?s name are you doing this to yourself?? dollar amounts aside, Week 3 demonstrates where Lyft can get tricky. I only ever drove during peak hours, as I did my ?research? and understood those to be the times when the most profit can be made (??). However, notice the difference between this and Week 2. A handful less rides, 30 extra minutes, and almost $30 less in total earnings (prior to the rental cost taking all hope for salvageable existence away from me). My tips were less, so apparently people didn?t like me as much.
Just kidding. A five star rating is the only thing I?ve succeeded in securing via my Lyft venture. Shout out to my amicability ? look at all the profit it?s made me!
Add in gas from this week and, well, do I even need to say it anymore? Fine. I lost money.
TOTAL EARNINGS: $259.09
AFTER RENTAL: $29.09
AVERAGE RIDES/HOUR: 2
AVERAGE $/HOUR: $1.63
And yes, of course, gas lowers the average to, yet again, a negative number. Noteworthy here, though, is that this was my largest ride count of the week, yet not my most ?profitable.?
Therein lies a massive dilemma when driving Lyft, whether or not you?re using your own car. You have no control over traffic, no control over demand, and no control over passenger destination.
My ride count was higher this week because a lot of my rides were a mile in one direction or 1.8 miles another way.
Then again, isn?t that kind of what I want when doing Express Drive? As many rides as possible? Because I?ve had other rides that were, on paper, more profitable but took me to an area in a galaxy far, far away where the only way to get another ride was to drive back through traffic (and thus, waste an hour) in search of a more saturated area.
Case and point ? a trip I took from Beverly Hills to Torrance. By Lyft standards, a supremely profitable ride ? $30 in about 50 minutes of drive time. But do you know how many people are requesting rides in Torrance?
Yeah me neither, because if there are any, they weren?t pinging on my phone! So after dropping the passenger off, I fought through another hour?s worth of traffic to get more hits, rendering that $30/hour amount to?
Make up to $25/hour!
But the show must begrudgingly go on and, thankfully, end ? which it did the following week.
Yep. You?re reading that correctly. I?m not even breaking this one down because it?s so depressing.
Personal circumstances and other commitments led to me not being able to get behind the wheel as much as I wanted to.
So yes, for the privilege of driving Lyft passengers around Los Angeles for nine hours throughout the week, I paid Lyft $111.87. Not even kidding. I have the bank statement to prove it.
And that is why I repeat: You win, Lyft. I?m out.
If driving for Lyft is your full-time job, then maybe (and a BIG maybe at that) the Express Drive program is an option.
Before I put a stamp on that consideration, though, let?s take my most profitable week and come up with an average total if I had put in insurmountable hours of driving.
It was in this week that I earned $278 in 35 rides and ~15 hours of driving. Rides fluctuate, so let?s consider only the driving hours and pretend that I somehow made it to 135 rides (though I?m not considering that possible in under anything less than 50 hours). The results:
50 hours: $925 (-$40 for rental) (- ~$150 for gas): $735
55 hours: $1017.50-$40-$150: $827.5
60 hours: $1110-$40-$150: $920
So, by going 20 hours over the average American work week and spending ALL of your work time behind the wheel of a car (with good gas mileage because my estimate is on the low end) you can make $920 in one week.
You win, Lyft. I?m out.