The Lyft Life

The service industry is changing before our very eyes, and “disruption” is the buzzword of the hour. In the past few years, so-called  “sharing economy” companies have been making billions by cutting out the middleman. The transportation services Uber and Lyft are perhaps most synonymous with the movement, but it’s not just ride-sharing; through Airbnb, you can stay in people’s houses in 190 countries instead of having to book hotels, or turn to Taskrabbit to outsource odd jobs.

Those being disrupted aren’t so happy about this new system of sharing. Taxi companies have mounted protests all over the world, and French restauranteurs are getting heated at home chefs who are going directly to diners. Critics of these app-based services say their business model is little more than a way to skirt liability and take jobs away from more qualified people. But to the contractors who want flexibility, it’s a great way to make some money and go at your own pace.

So how should you feel about all this? I spoke to Jane LeBoeuf, a local Lyft driver, about the controversy and the ups and downs of Lyfting for a living.

“I found out about it through an ad on Facebook! I resisted because I thought the rates they were advertising were too good to be true. I hated the bureaucracy at my job at the time so I took the plunge! Having no boss is amazing … with the rating system, the customer is more our boss.”

LeBoeuf found that she enjoyed driving so much, she regularly uses it to travel across the country, driving customers in different states and spreading the word along the way.

But if there is no upper management, where do you turn if there is some kind of issue? “Lyft actually does have a sort of 24/7 crisis helpline that I’ve had to use a few times (once from someone throwing up in my car), and they’ve been really patient. They want to keep us happy.”

I asked on behalf of lazy folks like myself, “If I already have the Uber app and Lyft is basically the same service, why take the 30 seconds to download it instead of keeping the Uber?”

LeBoeuf said, “Lyft tries hard to build a sense of community, which doesn’t exist with Uber. For drivers, there are things like weekly meet-ups, and there is a whole world of people who do it full-time. Taking a Lyft means you’re way more likely to get a friendly driver who wants to be there. They also cap the surge pricing, which is a little more ethical.”

When asked about the limited protections of her contractor status, she admits that it’s not always an ideal situation. “There is a constant anxiety from a job security standpoint and not knowing I’ll get paid. I’m not guaranteed anything, but to me it’s worth it to take the risk for the freedom. I get Obamacare, so I’m all set with my benefits, and not having a boss or set-in-stone schedule has been incredible.”

A tough reality for ridesharing drivers is the seemingly constant price wars; to stay a step ahead, Lyft and Uber have to cut rates, meaning less money for drivers. According to LeBoeuf, “There was a ‘golden age’ when Lyft first came to Rhode Island, and drivers were pulling thousands a week easily. Since the rate cuts, you have to work your butt off to hit $1,000, but there have been a few weeks when I’ve done it in 40 hours.”

No matter how you feel about the sharing economy, the explosive success of companies like Lyft (they boasted a five-fold revenue increase in 2014) means the market shake-ups are likely only getting started. As far as Lyft versus Uber, perhaps all the struggle will be moot in a few years; it can’t be that long before we’re all getting driven around by robots anyway, right?

Find out about Jane’s journeys at her website, Lyfting America (LyftingAmerica.com).

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