Let's Not Be so Quick to Praise Lyft's Promise of $10,000 Bonuses for Drivers

Illustration for article titled Let's Not Be so Quick to Praise Lyft's Promise of $10,000 Bonuses for Drivers
Photo: Isaac Brekken (Getty)

Ridesharing platform Lyft bought itself some goodwill in the wake of its initial public offering last week when SEC disclosures made it clear—as had been rumored—that the company would be distributing bonuses to select drivers. The number of drivers who might receive these benefits, however, may be vanishingly small.

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“Up to $10,000 in cash bonuses” for qualifying drivers, as has been glowingly reported elsewhere, is nothing to scoff at, especially considering they myriad studies examining the lacking wages rideshare drivers pull in. But that money comes with strict requirements. Drivers “in good standing” (a phrase undefined in the SEC filing) who have completed a jaw-dropping 10,000 rides are only eligible to receive $1,000. At 20,000 rides, the bonus jumps to the aforementioned $10,000 with no sliding scale of payouts in between.

What does 20,000 rides look like in actual work hours? “I have 1529 rides working part time, around 15 hours a week for the past 4 years for Lyft,” one driver, who asked not to be named, told Gizmodo via Reddit DM. They also claimed that “my cousin, who is a full time driver working 60 hours a week has achieved 6933 rides in 3 years of service for Lyft.”

Speaking to PBS, a spokesperson for the Independent Drivers Guild—a labor group which has pushed for wide-ranging rideshare reforms—estimated that hitting the 10,000-hour cap would require a full five years of driving full time for Lyft. This squares with what Ken, a driver based out of Los Angeles, told Gizmodo. “I have 15K rides and have been a sometimes part time/sometimes full time driver since 2014,” he wrote in an email. “I may purchase the stock with my $1000 bonus just to see what happens. It’s not so much money that I’d feel bad if it lost value.” He guessed his weekly average to be between 40 and 45 hours on the road for Lyft. To have hit the full 20,000, Ken likely would have had to drive at that pace since the company’s inception in 2012—an impossible task as Lyft did not expand to LA until January of 2013.

Of course, these are ballpark figures derived from individual experiences, though Lyft did not reply to questions about how many of their drivers would be receiving these payouts.

As Dr. Stephen Zoepf, Executive Director at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford, noted in an email, this bonus structure exists in contrast to one of the most popular practices in the gig economy “It also penalizes ‘multi-apping’ drivers who use multiple platforms like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash at the same time,” he wrote to Gizmodo in an email. Some drivers might have 10,000 rides overall, but that isn’t worth anything during this IPO unless all of them were given to Lyft customers.

Working against drivers still is the attrition rates of gig economy platforms. While no figures specific to Lyft were readily available, turnover at its main competitor, Uber, was once estimated at around 97 percent year-over-year.

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Even factoring in the dangerously long hours many drivers spend on the road, 20,000 rides on a single platform seems to describe almost no one. Until there’s serious reform in the rideshare industry, that’s probably for the best.

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bgmwrites@gmail.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

DISCUSSION

I think what this says more than anyrhing is how much these drivers are sitting idle or just driving without a fare. If someone worked 3 years for the service and averaged about 3.5 rides per hour and 40 hour weeks (without a vacation), they would be above the 20k number. So four or five years of 40 hour weeks should even allow some weeks off for vacation or watever. The internet is saying the average ride is about 5 to 7 miles. That would be about 12 minutes a ride at 35mph. So potentially 5 rides an hour, but likely not. However, I would think 3 rides an hour should be realistic. 36 minutes an hour with a fare and ~8 minutes between each fare. So 3.5 years of 40 hour weeks, or less if you did 45 or 48 hours. These people doing 70+ hours must spend a huge amount of time without a fare. Sooooo, while Lyft/Uber might like having way to many cars on the road at once, it sounds like they could limit the max drivers at once by a decent amount, maybe increase wait time to 5 minutes or something, but greatly increase driver pay by packing more minutes in the hour with an active fare for drivers.