Society

How I Earn: “If I Get Out of the House at 6 a.m., It’s a Marvelous Day”

Danell Johnson - 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 used to be an EMS driver here in Pittsburgh, but I had to quit when my leg got messed up. I was sitting around at home, looking for something to do for income. So in May 2021, I put my car on Lyft. I was a little nervous and didn’t think I was going to like it, but I actually really enjoyed it. I’ve been driving ever since. 

At first, I wasn’t very good at it. I needed to create structure for myself. You gotta be good at telling yourself what to do. So I have a pretty rigid schedule. My goal is to get out of the house before 9 a.m. If I get out before 9 a.m., I’m gonna have a great day. If I get out of the house at 6 a.m., it’s a marvelous day. In the morning is when you get the airport rides, the nurses, the college kids all going to class.  

I get my coffee first. If I don’t get coffee, it’s going to be a long day. And I’m packing my lunch, my snacks, and my apple juice. But then I turn my app on. 

"I get there three or four hours early because that’s when everybody’s getting ready: doing their shopping, getting their stuff together, going to the pregame and bars."

On Monday through Thursday, I want to be back in the house by 8 or 9 p.m. On weekends, my cutoff time is from 12:00 to 1:30 a.m. Fridays are the busiest day of the week. I can bring home between $300 and $700 on Fridays. But I drive six days a week. Sundays are for me. 

I’ve learned a lot. Like if there’s an event, the app will tell you how many people are going and when they think the busiest time will be. But I get there three or four hours early because that’s when everybody’s getting ready: doing their shopping, getting their stuff together, going to the pregame and bars. 

I decide where to drive by looking at the app, which tells me where there are bonuses and how many rides have been in an area recently. I also take advantage of filters. If it’s busy in one particular area, I set a filter as low as it can go — five miles — so I get back-to-back rides. There are nine colleges here, all close together, and college students don’t like to walk! So I can get six rides really quickly in that area. 

I’m paying all my bills with Lyft: rent, utilities, car notes, shopping expenses, everything. When I saw how much I made in 2022, I was amazed. No way. I made about 80K. So this year I plan to invest my money. The goal is to open up a coffee shop in the long term. Maybe in Pittsburgh — but I want to visit all the states and then figure out where I want to settle down. 

Danell’s Top 5 Tips for Earning

  1. Create a schedule for yourself — and stick to it.

  2. Start early to catch morning commuters, students, and airport rides.

  3. College students don’t like to walk — and campuses can be a great place to pick up lots of rides. 

  4. Start driving three to four hours before a big event. 

  5. Set a filter to stay inside high-traffic areas and get back-to-back(-to-back) rides.