Drivers describe social side, part-time perks of Lyft

Aug. 6, 2018

By Brenda Wade Schmidt, for SiouxFalls.Business

It’s becoming easier to spot a Lyft driver in Sioux Falls as more people sign up to be drivers and put the company sticker on their cars.

The company has spent about 10 months operating in the city — starting last October — providing a service that City Council member Christine Erickson helped usher in by adjusting city regulations to permit ride-sharing services to operate. While the city permits Lyft, it doesn’t permit each car, so it doesn’t track the number of drivers locally. But several of those in the business say that more and more Lyft cars are competing on the streets for customers.

“I’ve heard lots of positive feedback. I take it myself from time to time to functions and events at night, and it’s always fun to engage the driver about what they’re seeing and hearing,” said Erickson, who participates in a local Lyft driver Facebook group and encouraged one of her children’s teachers to become a driver as a part-time job.

“It’s interesting hearing them collaborate and talk about their challenges. And they’re the eyes and ears in the community. Hearing some of them report suspicious activity has been good. I’ve talked to a few businesses who love having Lyft, and as part of a thank-you to clients, they give X amount of rides per month. It’s really just a part of their business for some of their high-end clients,” she said.

Even her children get into the spirit of Lyft, pointing out cars bearing the stickers and driving around town.

“When we’re out of town, we take it traveling, and my kids love knowing we were part of helping that come to South Dakota. It’s been a real positive. I know in the beginning it was a little contentious with some of the other businesses who enjoyed a monopoly for a very long time,” she said. “Competition is good. The free market is good, and it’s allowed everyone to do better. If you’re getting poor ratings, you’re not able to drive anymore, so they really rely on those ratings to make sure they’re following the rules and the car is safe and clean. It’s been really interesting hearing how people are enjoying it.”

So far, Erickson has not heard anything from Uber, but she said the Lyft competitor is welcome if it chooses to serve Sioux Falls.

Like her son’s teacher, most Lyft drivers do it as a part-time job that allows them to control when they work.  

“It’s more a side hustle for folks who need a little extra money or had an unforeseen circumstance and need to pay off a bill, and some folks do it for the social atmosphere,” she said. “One friend I know who drives shares hilarious stories. She has such a great time learning about people.”

Chilson practices mellow, jokester approach

Josh Chilson signed up to drive for Lyft as soon as the company entered the Sioux Falls market, mostly out of curiosity. He has found that it is hard to beat as a part-time job.

As a driver, Chilson is typically good for some jokes if the passengers are up for it, and he hopes they in turn give him a good review on the Lyft app.

“One thing I would like passengers to take a little more consideration into is rating drivers. Rating is very important for us. Anything below 4.8 can make it harder to get rides or even get us deactivated. So while you might think giving someone a 4 out of 5 is “good” as it would be in most metrics, it’s actually quite bad,” he said.

If there is an issue with drivers, give written feedback so they know what they’re doing wrong. “Don’t be afraid to give out less than 5 if someone did something wrong. If you felt unsafe or the car was dirty or whatever, rate what you feel they deserve. Just let them know why.”

Josh Chilson

Age: 31

Town: Sioux Falls; originally from Florence

Occupation: Executive producer, KSFY News

Vehicle: 2015 Chevy Malibu

Part-time or full-time? Part-time, usually weekend bar crowd

Why did you start driving for Lyft?

I had been following the Uber/Lyft-coming-to-Sioux-Falls saga for a while. When Lyft finally came, I signed up partially just out of curiosity about the process. I work in news, so I thought it would be informative. I was somewhat apprehensive to actually start giving rides, but once I did, it stuck.

What has been your most memorable ride?

It was probably my first ride. It was a Saturday night — the second Saturday Lyft was active in Sioux Falls, so everyone was new to it. I had spent an hour aimlessly driving around town, anxiously checking my app, and decided to camp out by Wiley’s for a bit. A distressed-looking young woman saw the Lyft sticker on my car, then tapped on my window. It turns out the poor girl’s car had been towed, her phone was dead, and she and her friend were essentially stranded in Sioux Falls at 11 p.m. They were from Luverne. Luckily I had a charger compatible with her phone. She opened the Lyft app and started asking me questions about how to use it, but I had no idea as this was literally my first-ever ride. We had to figure it out together. We then had to figure out which tow company snagged her car, as well as where they were located so she could request a ride there. We then had to find an ATM so she could withdraw cash to pay the impound fee. When we finally got to the lot, she had to desperately plea with the sole worker there to let her get her car out that night. In the end, it all worked out, and she was able to get home. Both her and her friend were stone sober.

The ride was less like work and more like an adventure. In a way, it set the tone for my experience with Lyft — I was helping people. I’m getting paid, obviously. But it’s nice to get paid while doing something that feels positive.

What does it take to be a Lyft driver?

A car is helpful; it bums passengers out when you show up without one — pause for scattered pity laughter.

Aside from the generic traits that help with any job — positive attitude, communication skills, etc. — I would say a mellow disposition is very helpful. There are so many things you can’t control, it’s easy to get worked up. Your next passenger could be some pass-out-but-possibly-angry drunk, a guy trying embarrassingly hard to win over a girl or a City Council person. I’ve had all three — in one night. But just being laid back naturally puts you in a position to succeed with any of them. I think it’s because it’s your car. From the get-go, the passenger is in your space. If you’re not comfortable, they won’t be either.

What type of clients do you specialize in helping, and do they become repeat customers?

If by repeat customers, you mean repeat for me individually, I actually never stress that a rider should try and link up with me again. This is because of the nature of the Lyft platform. It’s built for convenience for both passengers and drivers. I could try and get back to your bar at a certain time, or you could call me and I could try and track you down to get in range of your ping, but that’s a hassle for us both. Just request a Lyft when you need one. It’ll work out for everyone in the long run. Note: Larger markets have more options in the app for scheduling rides and linking up with drivers you like, but the Sioux Falls market is still pretty basic on those options.

That being said, I do everything I can to make sure each passenger uses Lyft again. Clean car, safe driving, perceptive to your rider’s mood. As Lyft drivers, we want more Lyft riders. That’s really the only way we can increase revenue opportunity. That or slashing other Lyft drivers’ tires. But this is South Dakota, and we’re all too nice for that.

What is the Lyft business climate like, growing or just steady?

While demand is certainly increasing, it’s been my personal experience that demand is currently being outpaced by driver saturation. There are times when there’s just too many drivers out, and you won’t get rides. I’ve found myself being more choosy on times I actually drive. I’ll focus on nights with a big event — concerts, etc. On a good night, I can still make as much as ever, but there’s also a larger risk for dud nights.

If you could choose anyone as a customer for one ride, who would it be and what would you talk about?

I would choose an exceedingly old millionaire who just had a falling out with all of his/her loved ones because they are all spoiled and undeserving of his/her riches. We would talk about how the best way to make them learn their lesson would be to name a friendly Lyft driver as his/her sole heir.

Other than that, I generally abide by the “don’t meet your heroes” theory. They probably aren’t as interesting as you think, and you’ll be disenchanted when they leave you a paltry tip.

How do you make sure the ride you are providing  won’t turn ugly, especially if you are providing rides to people who have been drinking, or have you had to terminate a ride?

Be perceptive of your passengers. If they don’t want to talk, don’t talk. Avoid politics. If passengers get worked up about something, remain calm and de-escalate, remind them we’re in this ride together. If a group appears to be particularly rowdy from the get-go, establish boundaries early — no open containers in the car, don’t fit in extra passengers, etc. If they can’t conform to reasonable requests, don’t let them in your car. I’ve never had to terminate a ride, but I have stopped rides before they happened. One unpleasant woman thought it reasonable to fit seven passengers into my midsize sedan. I’m not driving a phone booth trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.

What are the best parts about doing Lyft as a business?

The flexibility is the beautiful part of it as a part-time job. You don’t need to get in 15 hours a week to keep it — you can go weeks without driving if you don’t feel like it or you’re busy. And there’s something very satisfying about having the freedom to  think, “I just don’t feel like working right now,” and then turn that thought into a reality by just going offline.

Also, I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy the conversations I’ve had. Sure, many are just about “what it’s like to drive for Lyft,” but sometimes you’ll get really good ones. Sometimes, there’s an unexpected intimacy when talking with a complete stranger. People sometimes talk about subjects they wouldn’t normally talk about if they don’t think they’ll ever see you again. And I’m less afraid to make a bad joke. If I can make a stranger laugh, that’s a good day.

How often do you wash your car, and where’s the best car wash?

I wash my car when it’s dirty and I’m planning on driving that night. Personally, I think the cleanliness of the interior is more important. I usually go to Silverstar, but in truth, that’s because it’s by my house.

Driver goes from classroom to streets

As a third-grade teacher, Eliza Leloux may have found the perfect part-time job: driving adults as her Lyft customers.

It allows her to earn extra money and gives her a chance to be social with peers. “I’m a very people person. I enjoy making new friends, talking to people,” she said. “It ends up being a really small world when you start talking to people.”

Leloux also tries to make her rides fun by singing along with customers to songs on the radio, offering interior ambiance lighting and engaging them in conversations. “I get a lot of comments on the pink lighting,” she said. “I always want their experience to be very positive and fun to encourage them to use Lyft again.”

Eliza Leloux

Age: 37

Town:  Sioux Falls

Occupation:  Third-grade teacher in Sioux Falls

Vehicle: 2011 black Ford Edge Sport

Part-time or full-time: Part-time

Why did you start driving for Lyft?  

I decided to drive for Lyft because I thought it would be a fun way to earn a little extra cash. It has become the perfect part-time job since there are no minimum hours needed per week or month and I can drive whenever it works for me. I have always enjoyed using this service in other cities and love meeting new people, so I thought I would give it a try. It has been a very fun, entertaining experience so far. I really enjoy driving for Lyft.

What has been your most interesting ride?   

Wow, this is a hard one to answer because there have been so many, which is why it makes this job so fun. When you work during the evenings/weekends, you are usually dealing with some passengers that may have had one too many to drink, and their actions and words can be highly entertaining. My first weekend driving was over Halloween, so it was so fun to see all of the costumes and excitement to try out Lyft. Other interesting scenarios have been when I was gifted a 4-foot stuffed elephant from a passenger, lots of loud karaoke singing and dancing, and many passengers share about the events of their night, which are usually hilarious.        

What do you do to put a personal touch on your ride service?

I think many Lyft drivers do this, but I provide bottled water, phone charger options, pink ambiance lighting inside the vehicle, ask what kind of music they would like to listen to and if the temperature is to their liking in the car. I always make sure my car is clean and smells nice. I focus on trying to make their experience a positive one so they want to use Lyft again.

Have you ever had to refuse a ride and why? Or is there a type of ride you would pass on?

I have never refused a ride, but on a couple occasions I have felt a little uncomfortable with the conversations/comments passengers have made when they may have had a little too much to drink, which almost resulted in a cancellation of their ride. Most of my rides have been within Sioux Falls or to neighboring towns, but depending on the situation, if it was a ride that was extremely far away that I wasn’t planning on or didn’t have that much time allotted, I may consider refusing, but I haven’t had that situation yet.  

What type of ride is most requested? Do people want you to drive them by the Falls?

Since I drive mostly at night, on weekends and for events, most of my passengers are either requesting a ride to or from the bar or a ride to or from an event. I will also have from bar to bar. I have also given some rides to and from the airport. I have not had anyone request to go to the Falls.

What types of customers do you see most often, business or vacationers?

Most of my passengers have been local residents. I have had a few passengers in town for a concert or conference from different states and one group from Canada. Sometimes, I will pick up visitors from the airport that have traveled here for business and/or pleasure. Everyone, for the most part, that uses Lyft has been always very friendly and respectful.

What are some of the surprising things you hear about Sioux Falls from customers?  

Most everyone I give a ride to expresses how happy they are that Lyft has arrived in Sioux Falls. They enjoy the convenience of using the app to request a ride and that Lyft drivers arrive promptly, and they have had really good experiences with it so far. If you have never tried Lyft before, please feel free to use this code ELIZA238 for discounted rides, or if interested in becoming a driver, you can earn extra bonuses using that referral code.  

If you could give any person in the world a ride, who would you choose and why?

 Of course, it would be fun to give someone famous a ride, but honestly, I just love giving rides to passengers that are outgoing, friendly and respectful. When my conversations with passengers are fun and entertaining, it makes the night fly by.

Former bartender gives safe rides

There’s a knack for giving rides to people who have spent the night out sociallizing with friends, and for Matt Brinkman, it’s right where he likes to be.

As a former part-time bartender, he saw how hard it was for someone who had been drinking to get a safe, timely ride home. As a part-time Lyft driver, he likes helping out.

“It takes a special person to be able to handle all of the personalities you will see on any given night, and I have seen almost all of them with my years of bartending experience,” he said. “Mostly, they just want to have a good time, make it to where they are going safely, and I help them with that.”

Matt Brinkman

Age: 37

Town: Tea

Occupation:  Elementary education

Vehicle: 2011 Kia Sorento

Part-time or full-time:  Part-time

Why did you start driving for Lyft?

I saw that Sioux Falls needed this service desperately. I was a bartender part-time for the last few years and saw how hard it was to get a customer home safely and efficiently. Many times, we were not able to get a safe ride to the customer in a timely manner, and they might make a poor decision and drive inebriated. I had signed up for Lyft before it came and jumped at the opportunity once it was here.

What has been your most memorable ride?

There was a night back on New Year’s Eve where a couple was walking from downtown, and I pulled over to see if they needed a Lyft. It was 2:30 a.m., and the temperature was well below zero. They hopped in and thanked me wholeheartedly. The boyfriend had a Lyft account, but his phone was dead. We waited there for a minute, let him charge his phone and warm up, and then they requested a Lyft from me. It’s things like that moment that make me realize why Lyft is great.

How often do you drive, and how often do you have to wash your car?

I drive most Fridays and Saturdays and in the summer a few weekdays. I wash my car almost every time I go out and at least clean the inside every time.

What do you do to put a personal touch on your ride service?

I always have free water available to my passengers. Sometimes, I will do trivia or karaoke depending on the night. On Fridays and Saturdays, I always have free treats available to my passengers.

How many regular customers do you see, and who has been the most famous?

I have several regular customers and always have people that I have worked with asking me if I can be at a location at a certain time so they can request me. I have had local people like DJ Kor, Brittany Kaye and Julie Dunmire from Keloland, and others.

What does it take to build a Lyft business, and what are your goals?

To build a business with Lyft, it takes time and effort. It definitely helps to have a network of people who love what you do and want to see you succeed. My wife has been amazing by letting me spend extra time in seeing if this works because it’s a great opportunity for my family. My goals are to see Lyft remain a cornerstone for ride-share transportation in the Sioux Empire for years to come.

What trend are you seeing locally in the growth or leveling off of this business?

I am seeing that there are a lot more passengers converting to drivers. The Lyft market is all about supply and demand. If there is less demand than drivers available, then more drivers will leave the service. Vice versa, if there is a higher demand, more people will become drivers. I feel this is definitely an ebb-and-flow business and will remain that way for the near future.

What’s the bar-crowd business like, and how many rides can you do a night?

The bar crowd is where I spend most of my time. It takes a special person to be able to handle all of the personalities you will see on any given night, and I have seen almost all of them with my years of bartending experience. Mostly, they just want to have a good time, make it to where they are going safely, and I help them with that. It depends on the night, but I’ve done anywhere from five to 15 rides in any given night.

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Drivers describe social side, part-time perks of Lyft

Ever wonder what it’s like to drive for Lyft? These drivers share their funny, strange and memorable moments behind the wheel.

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