Lyft drivers form tight bonds at ride-share service

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/12/14/lyft-drivers-form-tight-bonds-at-ride-share-service/

BOSTON – On a particularly warm November day, Lyft drivers gathered around a long table in the back of Roxy’s Grilled Cheese in Allston, laughing over conversations about “friendsgiving” and funny stories about their passengers.

“I love it,” said Chris Ellis-Hibbett, who has been driving for Lyft for over two years. “We’ve all become friends. I think we all have friends for life just from the first crew of cars we started out with.”

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Chris Ellis-Hibbett, Lyft driver at Roxy’s Grilled Cheese in Allston, MA (NewBostonPost, photo by Beth Treffeisen)

Since the summer of 2013, Lyft has been the underdog ride-sharing service in Boston, compared with Uber anyway. Many drivers prefer to work with Lyft, citing its close-knit community, while the pay is competitive too. Lyft drivers say they try to extend that collective sense of togetherness by relating to passengers as friends who need a ride rather than taking a more formal, chauffeur-client approach.

Returning customers provide the most enjoyable experiences for Barry Martin, who joined Lyft in June.

“Today I got to give a ride to a girl who goes to Gordon College,” he said, providing an example. “I’ve driven her five or six times now. We get to pick up our conversations where we left off.”

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Barry Martin, full-time Lyft driver at Roxy’s Grilled Cheese in Allston, MA (NewBostonPost, photo by Beth Treffeisen)

For many Lyft drivers, the service provides a flexible way to make money to supplement other income.

“It’s like my little security blanket that I hold onto,” said Wendy A. O’Neil, a graphic designer and the first driver to sign up for Lyft in Boston. “It’s always there if I need extra money for Christmas or a bill pops up or my daughter’s tuition. I can drive. I have the power to make money and all I have to do is turn the app on.”

Ellis-Hibbett, a former professional women’s football player, has worked in retail management. After an ankle injury ended both those careers, delivering a significant economic blow. Lyft helped her stabilize her life, financially.

“I got to tell you, it really kind of saved my behind on getting back and getting my bills back on track,” said Ellis-Hibbett. “It really couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Henry Chen, an information system analyst with International Business Machines and one of the first Lyft drivers in the Hub, enjoys the work more as a hobby than a part-time job.

“It’s just something better to do than sit at home and watch the food network, which I do a lot,” Chen said. And he’s trying to save enough money for a down payment on a house.

Lyft drivers get to keep 80 percent of what they receive for each ride they provide, but there are opportunities to recoup the 20 percent by working at peak times and putting in extra hours. Some say it’s a better deal than driving for the competition, and they say their passengers like Lyft better too.

“Bottom line, the money is better but the riders are also genuinely happier with Lyft,” said Martin, a former Uber worker who drives a 2008 Kia mini-van full-time for Lyft.

Each new driver must be checked out and approved by an experienced Lyft driver, who assesses if the applicant would be a good fit for the team.

Chen, who also previously worked for Uber, liked the idea of driving for a team.

Wendy O'Neil right, with her daughter outside of her car in Allston, MA (NewBostonPost, photo by Beth Treffeisen)

Wendy O’Neil right, with her daughter outside of her car in Allston, MA (NewBostonPost, photo by Beth Treffeisen)

Uber, Chen said, “didn’t really fit my personality. I just gravitated towards Lyft because of the drivers around me, how much of a community sense it was and, of course, the people running the company.”

As for the long and sometimes weird hours many Lyft drivers work, Chen says the company makes up for it by hosting driver get-togethers throughout the week, including late-night and weekend jaunts to local restaurants.

O’Neil, who is a single parent, feels that Lyft not only provides an opportunity to make money, but gives drivers a sense of real community.

“I feel like it has given me control over my life and I am so grateful for Lyft,” O’Neil said. “It has kind of given me my daughter back, it’s given me everything.”

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