Wednesday, January 23

Ride-sharing service lifts quality of life for drivers

Fourth-year environmental science student Michael Binger uses his earnings as a Lyft driver for a spontaneous travel fund. (Alyssa Dorn/Daily Bruin)

Fourth-year environmental science student Michael Binger uses his earnings as a Lyft driver for a spontaneous travel fund. (Alyssa Dorn/Daily Bruin)

The original version of this article misspelled Max Rozentsveyg's name. His name should be spelled Rozentsveyg, not Rozentesveyg.

Julio Medina peed his pants while driving for Lyft.

The third-year fine arts student picked a couple up, conversed about Eminem, middle school awkwardness and Air Force 1 shoes before dropping them off.

“I couldn’t hold it so I just peed,” Medina said. “I went home, took a shower and got back on the road.”

Medina said he’s been driving for the ride-sharing mobile application for a year and a half as a way to make money to pay bills while having flexible hours, which he needed because of his irregular dance practice schedule.

Students, like Medina, have found driving for Lyft to be an accessible way to make money during the school year. Alumni have also become involved in analytics and software development with Lyft, a San Francisco-based company.

At the wheel

Fan Zhang, an alumnus, decided he did not want to spend his last quarter at UCLA holed up in the library studying, so he started driving part-time for Lyft in January.

“I thought it would be nice to go out and meet new people, but at the same time earn a little bit of cash,” Zhang said.

Zhang got behind the wheel whenever he had free time or wanted to take an hour break from studying. He said because of the flexibility of Lyft schedules, he was able to balance studying and driving.

“I would say (driving) increased my time management skills and helped me become social in that aspect,” Zhang said.

As a student, Zhang said he would drive 10 hours a week in Los Angeles. However, Zhang said his call volume has decreased after he graduated because he now drives in Irvine.

Medina also said he drives approximately 10 hours a week and gets paid anywhere from $15 to $25 an hour, depending on demand and the events occurring in the area at the time.

Medina has even driven someone to meet celebrities for lunch. He said he drove a personal assistant of one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s friends to eat Korean barbecue in Koreatown with DiCaprio and Miley Cyrus.

“He was really excited (to meet DiCaprio and Cyrus) and said, ‘I don’t normally do things like this,’” Medina said. “I was happy for him.”

Fourth-year environmental science student Michael Binger said his first drive for Lyft was for a former professional basketball player for a team in Spain, picking him up in Inglewood and dropping him off in Santa Monica.

Binger said driving has only added to his college experience because he only drives when he is not doing anything else. Since he is from the Central Valley, he said driving in Los Angeles has exposed him to other people and places.

“I’m not letting driving sacrifice my social or work life, and as a result, I’m making more money than I’d have otherwise,” Binger said.

Binger said the only downside to the gig is that he is involved with several organizations on campus and cannot dedicate as much time as he would like to driving.

Binger’s earnings from driving go toward a spontaneous travel fund. He’s gone to San Diego, Las Vegas and hopes to go to St. Louis during baseball season.

“Any opportunity to go somewhere else? I’ll use the money,” Binger said. “It’s great for Vegas because you don’t want to gamble money you don’t want to spend, so you make a couple hundreds really quick, gamble that and feel less bad about it.”

Binger said he makes $25 to $40 an hour on a good day driving and averages two to three hours for each and any given day of the week.

In the office

In addition to student drivers, UCLA alumni have gone on to work with analytics and software for the growing company in San Francisco.

Max Rozentsveyg studied computer science and has been working for Lyft since August 2014 as a senior software engineer. After graduating in 2012 – the same year Lyft was founded – Rozentsveyg worked as a software engineer for Microsoft in Seattle for two years.

The engineer said he was looking to work somewhere closer to his family and in a smaller setting, which Lyft provided.

“One thing that appealed to me is that Lyft exists to solve a real problem in the real world,” Rozentsveyg said. “It’s not just an app that exists only on the Internet.”

James Hsu, an analytics manager at Lyft headquarters, graduated from UCLA in 2010 with a degree in mathematics/economics.

Hsu said his current job with Lyft, which he has had for a year and a half, entails handling user acquisition and user retention, and developing new strategies to enter new markets.

“Strangely enough, there’s no one set day,” Hsu said. “Every day I wake up, I get into the office and I look over metrics, figure out what has been going right and wrong in each of our top markets.”

While studying at UCLA, Rozentsveyg’s goal was to work for a company that he believed was important for real people, not necessarily one that delivered a product.

“I wanted to work on something that real users would use,” Rozentsveyg said. “There’s a lot of room for personal growth and potential because Lyft is growing really fast.”

Rozentsveyg said Lyft now provides around one million rides per week and has raised its revenue five-fold from 2014 to 2015.

Ride-sharing stories

Medina is on the road to working for Keller Williams Realty in Santa Monica, but will continue driving as a student while pursuing his dream of becoming a dance professor.

As a driver, Medina said the job is personable and the conversations he has had with passengers turn out to be what he needs to hear at that moment. With financial troubles and grad school weighing him down, Medina said a passenger became his personal motivator.

“He kept saying, ‘You can do it man. You can do anything you set your mind to. Cut yourself some slack,’” Medina said. “He was positive, and Lyft passengers and Lyft drivers always give me something some message, some words of wisdom – and I keep pushing forward.”

Medina did not stay in touch with this passenger, but he does not find that abnormal.

“That’s kind of the beauty of it,” Medina said. “You meet a stranger for a few minutes and you may not cross them again in your life.”

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