Making extra money when one already has a full-time job can be complicated. It’s difficult to find a part-time job with hours that fit into a work schedule you’re already committed to, and taking on another set schedule of work hours on the side can be exhausting in the long run. But Lyft drivers work when they want to, where they want to, and that’s part of the reason the work appeals to Ashley Sadler so much.
She began working as a part-time Lyft driver in January. Already employed full-time doing administrative work for a civil engineering company, Sadler was introduced to the possibility of “Lyfting” in her spare hours when it was suggested to her one day at the car wash. “Someone was watching me clean my car, and asked me, ‘Are you cleaning your car between rides?’ I said something like, ‘I’m always in between rides,’ — I didn’t know what she was talking about! — and then she explained that she was a Lyft driver and told me a bit about it.”
Sadler learned that having a clean, four-door car no older than a 2010 model was necessary to work for the company, along with being the type of person who likes to interact with others and be in their car a lot.
All the boxes were ticked: she had recently purchased a new four-door car that she enjoyed driving, she always kept her car clean and she enjoyed the company of other people. Not only that, it sounded like a good balance to her computer-related desk job. “It was an opportunity to do something more fluid and a good way to make money on my own time,” she says. “It’s like having your own business.”
Established in 2012, Lyft uses smartphone-based technology to connect people looking for transportation with drivers who operate as independent contractors using their own vehicles. Payment is made by credit or debit card through a downloaded app, which puts the user together with the driver closest to them and lets them know when their ride will show up. The app also encourages riders and drivers to rate one another, which becomes a sort of self-regulating quality control: Sadler says if a driver’s ratings are low, the algorithms in the app will kick in and prevent the driver from getting any rides for a period of time.
She works primarily in New Paltz, estimating that 90 percent of her passengers are just going a short distance across town; to the college campus, to work, a bar or home. “Anything you can imagine that someone would need a car for, they’ve called me for. Maybe they don’t want to drive in the rain, or they’ve been drinking. People even order take-out and I go pick it up and bring it to their home.”
That happens more often than you might think, she says. There’s also always the possibility that someone will want to travel a considerable distance, which can be a surprise; the driver doesn’t know where the passenger wants to go until they get in the car. Anticipating a short trip before going home, a driver could answer a call and end up driving down to the city or get someone like the passenger Sadler picked up at the SUNY New Paltz campus who wanted a ride home to Connecticut. “The only thing not up to me is where we go. If I pick them up, I have the responsibility to take them all the way; you have to be willing to do the things the job entails and have fun with it.”
Originally from Montgomery, Sadler first moved to New Paltz in 2010, working at Wells Fargo as a teller for a few years. She moved to San Diego, California briefly but came back to New Paltz two years ago. “It’s really my adopted home. I love the sense of community and the culture in New Paltz.”
Recently we asked Sadler to tell us a little more about what a day’s work is like for a Lyft driver.
How did you learn the ropes — is there any training involved?
There isn’t any training, but you do have to know the area very well. They do a background check on drivers and you can’t have any violations on your driving record.
What is most challenging or difficult about it?
Keeping the car clean at all times. I like to keep my car clean, but sometimes if it’s a rainy Friday night, the last passenger may have tracked mud all over the car and you’re so busy you don’t have enough time to clean it before you get the next call. You have to stay on top of that as an independent contractor and I need to make sure I’m presentable and the best me that I can be at all times.
What do you like the most about it?
It’s kind of like getting a “snow globe” glimpse into everybody’s life for about five minutes. It’s interesting to have these small periods of time to meet people. You have to ask them where they’re going, and they want to talk with you; they want to tell you what they did, make you part of it. They get friendly with you, and that is something I like. The passengers I get in New Paltz are so nice; I’ve never met so many nice people.
How are the hours? Does the job provide a good work/life balance?
You set your own schedule. Often when I leave work in Highland, I turn the app on to catch rides as I drive home through New Paltz. People are going to a late class, or just leaving the college, or if it’s later, 6-7 p.m., they might be going to a bar. I’ll do seven or eight rides through New Paltz and then decide at that point if I made enough money and if I did, go home. Then there are occasions where I might do nothing all day on a Saturday and at 10 o’clock at night turn the app on and work until 4 a.m. I don’t do that very often, but you make good money doing that. You can also go on vacation, especially in a touristy area, and turn the app on and get rides [to pay for the trip]. You tell the “lyfters” that you’re new in the area and they can tell you the good places to go when you’re done driving.
What advice would you give other people contemplating going into this line of work?
Pick a time, go clean your car, sign up for the app and give one ride a try. It might not be for you, but there’s not much preparation when you go on your first ride. Maybe buy a bottle of water for your first customer and tell them it’s your first ride. And make sure you have a device to hold your phone. Then if you like doing it after the first time, you’re going to keep doing it.
What advice would you give riders thinking of hiring a Lyft?
If you don’t feel safe going to work in bad weather or you’ve had anything to drink, make sure you download the Lyft app and just get a ride. Spend the money; don’t be unsafe and never drink and drive. I’m a big advocate of that. Just try it out sometime; it might be me who you get!