Student by day, Erika Maldonado moonlights as a Lyft driver in the City by the Bay. Photo by John Ornelas / Xpress
Student by day, Erika Maldonado moonlights as a Lyft driver in the City by the Bay. Photo by John Ornelas / Xpress

While weekend warriors are out on the town, I’m the one they call when they need a lift.  Most people know it as ride sharing, but the California Public Utilities Commission has officially dubbed app-based ride services Transportation Network Companies, TNCs. Companies like Sidecar and Uber have been making headlines and pissing off taxi drivers for more than a year now. I, however, decided to join the pink moustached fleet known as Lyft about a month ago.

My first passenger was a disgruntled, older woman who was impatient because it took me a whole ten minutes to get to her. I’ve quickly learned working later at night is usually more fun. Drunk people aren’t in a rush to get anywhere and they’re generally in better spirits.  A group of Academy of Art students I picked up even offered to get me a drink at the bar I was taking them to after I told them it was my first night on the job. It was a sweet gesture, but I of course declined.

Drunk passengers can also be challenging. To say the least. My last passengers of the night were two very inebriated women in search of an iPhone that was stolen earlier in the night. I picked them up at a beautiful apartment atop a hill with such a gorgeous view of the city that it reminded me why I pay ridiculous rent to live in a box.

“We’re on a mission. Do you think you can help us out?”

The mission I foolishly accepted involved driving these two petite women who couldn’t have been older than 21 years old to the Tenderloin around 1 a.m. to an address that their Find My iPhone app directed them to. The one whose phone they were trying to track down was the drunker of the two, not surprising.  Twice, she opened her passenger door when I was in motion, frantic because she “NEEDED HER PHONE!”

By the time we got to the location, I was ready to leave these two defenseless young’ns on their own in the T.L. in the middle of the night.

“Do you think you can wait for us for a bit?”

My Christian upbringing forced me to oblige. The app led them to apartment buildings, making it nearly impossible to track down the phone. I gave them five minutes, which is about how long it took these two to realize it was a lost cause.  What did they think was going to happen when they got there anyway? Were they going to ask the thief to please return the phone? It was a doomed mission from the start and I was dumb enough to be an accomplice. I ended up just taking them back to their gorgeous apartment and decided I had enough for my first night on the job.

Considering that I spent three years as a Starbucks barista, being a Lyft driver isn’t the worst job. If you drive during peak hours you keep all the money you make without Lyft taking 15 percent of it. In three hours I can make up to $150 and I can work whenever I want. All I have to do is make sure my car is clean and flip my app to “driver mode.” The decision came partially after feeling safer about regulations put in place for TNCs by the CPUC this past September. And partially because I, like many unfortunate college students, am not getting paid a dime for the 16 hours I put in each week at the news organization I’m interning for.

It isn’t fair for taxi drivers who have have to shell out extra money for permits, have city limitations on fares they can charge and have a separate driver’s license, as mentioned in an earlier Xpress story on Lyft. But working for free when you’re living in a city with one of the most expensive costs of living isn’t fair either.