If Kim Zimmer could cart around anyone in the world, it would be the Dalai Lama.
That’s what she told the interviewer when she applied to drive at Lyft, the ridesharing service known for cars with pink mustaches strapped to their grills.
Zimmer is a schoolteacher who was looking for a way to bring in some extra income during her summers off. She struggled to find a side job that would let her scale back once school was in session.
“Teachers are always looking for ways to supplement, but it’s not always easy because we have kind of a tough job during the school year,” says Zimmer, of Lincoln Square. “The reality is that we don’t make a lot of money at all. So just having even 40 to 50 bucks here and there is fantastic.”
After passing Lyft’s criminal background, insurance and vehicle checks, as well as acing phone and in-person interviews, she was accepted.
Ridesharing services, which use smartphone apps to coordinate rides between people who need them and drivers using their own cars, have become in-demand side jobs in Chicago. Drivers are mostly part time and include young professionals, grad students, entrepreneurs, off-duty cab drivers, freelancers and retirees. They can make $15 to $35 an hour.
Lyft and rival Sidecar operate on a “suggested donation” model, in which riders can contribute as much as they’d like for the ride. UberX, another rideshare, calculates fares that are typically 20 percent less than taxi rides. All transactions are made through apps, and drivers and riders can rate each other on the experience.
Zimmer, who has been driving since June, says she drove roughly 20 hours a week over the summer. At Lyft, drivers make at least 80 percent of a ride, says communications director Erin Simpson. The money is collected from riders by a third-party payment company, and drivers are paid each week (or in the case of Sidecar, whenever they want to transfer payments to their bank account).
Jae White, an instructor at Chicago State University, applied to Lyft after she saw an ad on Facebook touting flexible hours and good pay. Now, she drives 30 to 50 hours a week for the company. In her night shifts on Fridays and Saturdays, she says she’ll make close to $30 an hour if she gets consistent pickups. White says the money is so easy and fun — she says passengers have “kidnapped” her to buy her lunch after a ride — she has a hard time getting out of the car.
“It’s so addictive,” White says. “I literally have to make myself have a day off every week.”
Alon Schwartz quit his job in the spring to launch his own company. He started driving with Sidecar as a bit of a financial safety net and soon found an added benefit.
“At first it was just for extra cash,” Schwartz says. “Now I get to talk about my business. So I get to drive people and tell them about the company. You never know who you’re going to meet.”
The ridesharing services say they have a problem with drivers talking business behind the wheel, as long as the customer doesn’t mind.
“We don’t have official policies, necessarily,” says Andrew MacDonald, who runs Uber in Chicago. “Our goal is for our partners to provide great service. Sometimes that means whoever’s taking a ride with them may just want to chat on their cellphone. And if that’s the case, they should be able to do that. But if they want to engage their driver and have a conversation about whatever, business or fun or anything like that, then that’s OK too.”
None of the services would specify how many drivers they have on the road in Chicago, though all three companies said fleets were in the hundreds. They anticipate the rideshare market will grow rapidly as it has in Austin,Texas, and San Francisco — meaning the demand for drivers is likely to rev up as well.