Lyft's Priority Mode Trades Pay For More Rides

Illustration for article titled Lyft's Priority Mode Trades Pay For More Rides
Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft have made some not-so-savory names for themselves over the years, and Lyft has introduced a new feature that seems directly aimed at shooting its own reputation in the foot. That new feature is called “priority mode.”

In essence, Lyft drivers who opt into priority mode will be given priority in being sent potential rides... but doing so also forces the driver to agree to a 10 percent pay cut. But the big issue here is the fact that drivers who don’t opt into priority mode seem to get almost nothing.

Here’s a little excerpt from CNET regarding a Toronto-based driver named Earla Phillips:

“I knew that this just was another way for the company to take more money from the drivers,” said Phillips, who was one of Lyft’s earliest drivers in Toronto. “The first week I didn’t even bother turning it on.”

Despite her skepticism, Phillips finally caved and gave priority mode a try. She got a few rides, used up her hours and didn’t notice much of a difference. What was notable, however, was that when she turned priority mode off she said she barely got any rides.

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Lyft introduced priority mode as a way, it claimed, for drivers to optimize their time on the road. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit rideshare companies hard, and it makes sense that drivers want to make the most of their time behind the wheel. The company launched priority mode in a few cities—Austin, Miami, and Toronto—as a way to preview the technology.

Priority mode isn’t available all the time. If you opt in, you’ll be given certain times per week where you’ll be given priority. If you’re given the option, you can opt into priority mode and have ride requests funneled to you. It’s supposed to reduce wait time between rides and is also supposed to help drivers make back the money they would lose by forfeiting 10 percent of their income during priority hours. More rides, more money.

It doesn’t take much digging to find that Lyft drivers hate this feature. One Redditor made a post titled, “I did priority mode this week which turned out to be shit. Took twice as many rides and double the hours to get the rental cost covered. Now I’m sitting here in a busy area and can’t get a ride. Funny how as soon as I get the car paid off I can’t get a ride, on a Saturday.”

In comment, another user noted something similar:

I am also a driver in Austin and on Thursday night I hit priority mode and although my luck was a little better, I had the same luck with that indicator (busy here) and those “demand going up” icons. Chasing them did NOT lead to any rides. In fact one was down a “blocked to through traffic” street and there wasn’t anyway to get to it (and then it disappeared). OP it’s like we’re rats in a maze to Lyft. Lyft tries different things with their app just to grab our attention and keep us online. I wouldn’t be shocked if there are some really nifty machine learning algorithms running that are learning what works to get each of us to stay online longer.

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It makes some sense. If there are a bunch of drivers scheduled for a priority period, they get first dibs on rides, which leaves other drivers scrambling for scraps. “They try and gaslight you into thinking it’s a positive thing with the whole ‘more work means more overall profit’ but of course it does so at the cost of other drivers and even harms riders to who may have to wait longer for a driver in priority mode to get to them,” a different Redditor noted.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that Lyft has been reducing the amount of money a driver can make per ride. Other threads on Reddit have been posted by drivers working countless hours and still struggling to make minimum wage. Now, they're being asked to give up even more money just to have a shot at getting rides.

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“The priority program works because the labor supply is indefinite,” J. J. Fueser, a researcher with RideFair, a Toronto coalition working to regulate ride-hailing, said. “It wouldn’t work if people weren’t desperate for income right now. It’s a race to the bottom.”

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

shanemorris
Shane Morris

I think I speak for everyone here when I say how much I hate the working class. If you have a mattress on the floor of your childhood friend Steve’s basement, a glass of water, and a bowl of oatmeal, you’re practically middle class.

Priority Mode is simply a way of separating the have-nots from the definitely-have-nots. For a small fee (10% less pay), Lyft will allow you to continue sleeping on a mattress in Steve’s basement. Sure, you may have to cut back on luxuries like soap and toilet paper, but living this way is character building.

Greatness doesn’t come without sacrifice. When we were building the Transcontinental Railroad, something like 10% of the labor force died in early blasting accidents. You didn’t hear those dead people complaining, did you? That’s because they knew the value of hard work.

Lyft is simply picking up the torch of industrialists from the turn of the 20th century, and forging a new class of worker in its grand vision. After all, the people with huge tranches of speculative debt depend on these workers to prop up their lives. I know for a fact that the CEO of Trend Capital & Development has made some cutbacks in his life because of these workers constantly complaining about “being in danger” and “not being able to afford food” — so much so that he was forced to come back early from a vacation in Switzerland to address the Lyft ethics board.

These Lyft drivers constantly complaining made a good family man end his Swiss vacation early. That’s the real travesty here. Why won’t you report on that, Elizabeth? Sounds to me like you’re another journalist in the hands of Big Labor, spewing toxic lies about “workers” instead of your right to vacation in Switzerland.