How I Earn: “A Lot of People Look at the Distance. I Look at the Time”

Jamie Petrus - Feb 6, 2024
Illustration by María Jesús Contreras

This week, Lyft announced a series of features to make earning with Lyft easier. To celebrate, we caught up with top-earning Lyft drivers around the country and asked them to share their own tips and insights into how they are able to get the most out of driving. 

I started driving with Lyft back in 2018. I had been a career waitress for 14 years, but I got tired of making money for somebody else and working on their schedule. I have a three-year-old child and flexibility is pretty important. I come up to Cleveland, Ohio, for the summer months, make my money, and then live the rest of the year in Jamaica. 

I’m strategic about when and where I drive. I’ll set my alarm for 4:20 in the morning and put on the “head to destination” filter [which only suggests rides en route to a particular endpoint] to catch airport rides into the city. Once I am there, I’ll put on a “stay-within-area” filter so I stay within the very far eastern part of Cleveland. It’s seen as a rough side of town. The roads over there have more potholes, and some drivers avoid it. But there’s a lot of activity there. We have the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, the Rockefeller Park Greenhouse but also the University Hospital Main Campus, Case Western Reserve University, and Cleveland Clinic, which I think has tens of thousands of employees. 

So I will drop my pin at the Cleveland Clinic and keep myself within a six-mile radius. More than 50% of my rides every day are to the hospitals. I try to be at the Cleveland Clinic when the nurse shift changes at 7 a.m. It’s very busy then. Around 10 a.m. it slows down, so I’ll take a break, run some errands. By two, three o’clock, I’ll reset the destination filter and get a couple rides to the airport as I make my way back home. 

I’ll do a little research too. I look at the Huntington Convention Center website to see how many people to expect at that week’s event. If ticket prices are high, you know it’s going to be high-demand. 

"A lot of people are looking at the distance and what they’re going to make off the distance. I look at the time."

Years ago, I used to look at the airport’s arrival list. If at least four planes were coming within the hour, I would go to the airport. Other drivers in the queue would be like, “Oh, I’ve been here for two hours” And it’s like, Did you look at the manifest log? They weren’t even looking at that stuff! Now the Lyft app tells you the amount of planes coming in. So it’s easy to check. 

I’m also picky and choosy with rides. A lot of people are looking at the distance and what they’re going to make off the distance. I look at the time — how long it takes to get to the pickup and drop-off. If I’m not going to make at least $30 an hour, I won’t accept it.  

I’m pretty quick with math. I was always the first one done with my times tables in elementary school. 

But I also just do a lot of conversions, as I spend half my time in Jamaica, and I have to convert the U.S. dollar to Jamaican dollars. Just a lot of math I am doing daily. 

So generally, when I see a ride, if it’s 20 minutes, I know I have to make $10. But it’s situational. Like, if I’m on a ride-completion challenge — like getting a bonus for completing 120 rides in four days — I’ll still take a quick ride for $3 because in the long run, it will be worth it. 

I have a hybrid right now, so I average about 42 miles per gallon. Having the hybrid engine was an extra $6,000, but I will make that back in two years on gas. I also pay $9.99 a month for the Premium tier on the GasBuddy app, which shows you all the gas prices in that area. You also get up to 50 gallons a month at 20 cents off per gallon. So that’s savings right there, right? And because it’s linked to my credit card, I get 3% cash back. It all adds up!

I’m saving aggressively. I’m looking to buy a triplex in Jamaica to invest in. Long term, I want to buy 20 acres and build up my own house. Off the grid, self-sustainable. That’s what I’m working towards.

Jamie’s Top 5 Tips for Earning

  1. Use the “stay-within-area” filter to get multiple rides in “hot” parts of town.

  2. Big hospitals can be ride magnets: Try driving nearby, especially when shifts change.

  3. Do your research: Look for in-demand tickets to identify popular events.

  4. When deciding to take a ride, consider not just distance but also total estimated time.

  5. Use an app like GasBuddy to save on fuel.