TTAC reader Majda shares his tale of becoming a driver for ridesharing app Lyft.
Few car enthusiasts get paid to drive soused, singing young women around town. I do. The price was zip-tying a pink moustache onto the grille of my Mazda3.
I like to think of myself as the median reader of TTAC. I drive an enthusiast-approved Mazda3, did a DE course at Summit Point Raceway, and handle my own maintenance within reason. I own a Mityvac and am disappointed with its oil seals. I believe, against all evidence, that my girlfriend will appreciate it if I replace the stock e-brake handle.
There is one thing, though, that differentiates me from the median member of the Best and the Brightest: I have seen the awful face of twenty-year-old femininity, and I am afraid. I have driven down a four-lane highway with four college girls as my passengers, trying to keep control of the car while three tossed my hat around the backseat and the first one swiveled her head back and forth, whacking my shoulders with her perfumed, layered hair, touching my face with her hands whenever she felt inspired to do so, which was often.
I did this, as stipulated, with a pink moustache attached to the clownfish grille of my last-gen 3, because I drive for Lyft.
Lyft, like Uber and Sidecar, is a ridesharing app. Riders hail a driver using a smartphone. The driver – your humble scribe, now your humble chauffeur – drives to the pickup spot to collect you, the passenger. I then ferry you from home to bar, or bar to home, or bar to bar, as you like. When you get out, you don’t pay me directly; instead, you pay through the phone. Lyft takes a small cut.
For passengers, the experience is sociable, convenient, cheap, and pleasantly modern. As with many technological improvements, you get a better product at a lower cost. However, there are a few disadvantages which you, the riding public, should know about:
Driving a cab is harder than you think, and one of the most gratifying elements of driving one is watching the professionals do it. Tail a real cabbie, at a safe distance, and you’ll see what I mean. They know the light patterns, they know how to hypermile, they know every inch of town, and they know the police patterns better that you do.
It follows from these admissions that the professional cabbie will, ceteris paribus, be better at his job than the man who practices law by day and deploys the pink moustache at night.
Hailing a cab is one of the few democratic practices left in America. You stand on a corner, wave your hand, and may the best citizen win. Lyft differs from the taxi norm in several key ways: first, you must have a smartphone to hail a ride, which eliminates the elderly and the very poor; second, you must have a credit card, which eliminates the unbanked; third, you must be connected with the sort of social networks which introduce you to smartphone apps, which eliminates half of America. If you doubt the power of those networks, consider this: in roughly four hundred pickups for Lyft, I have been sent into a poor part of town just twice.
3. Social Cocooning
When I ride in a cab, I sit in the back. There is rarely a physical partition between me and the driver, but there is always a social partition. In my town, the driver is often Ethiopian or from the subcontinent. He – and it is always a he – generally provides fine service, and I tip out of respect.
It is a socially uncomfortable interaction, because I don’t have much in common with him other than our common humanity. For better or for worse, this makes hailing a cab somewhat discomfiting.
Lyft eliminates that problem. Passengers are expected to sit in the front seat, and Lyft prescribes a fist-bump to start the ride, just to put the passenger at ease. About 40% of drivers are female. I’m not a naturally jovial guy, but my passengers often thank me for chatting them up. Lyft touts this element in its advertising: I am “your friend with a car.”
It’s a wonderful gig. I enjoy driving around my particular city in the evenings, circulating through its neighborhoods and watching the sun go down. It’s a gig, not a career, though, because this innovation has planted the seeds of its own obsolescence. Thanks to Lyft and Uber, affluent urbanites are getting addicted to ride-by-app. Once the app can hail a self-driving car, there will be no need of a driver, taxi or otherwise. Young couples won’t hold hands quietly in the back seat. The brunch crowd will pregame before pancakes, en route. The girls will sing, on the way to the club, unobserved by cabbie anthropologists, and the pink moustaches will dissolve into a sea of white, efficient little pods.