A ride-share driver reveals the ups and downs of working in the gig economy.
The following photo essay is part of a weekly series ‘Working the night shift.’ OB photographer Jason E Kaplan follows the people who keep the state’s largest city running through the night.
I meet Tory Powell outside the Lyft hub on N. Mississippi Ave. in Portland at 11 p.m. He had already been driving for a couple of hours. Powell tells me that between 80% and 85% of ride-share drivers do this work part time, but he isn’t one of them. Powell says that he usually logs between 50 and 55 hours a week.
Powell prefers driving at night for several reasons. He avoids streets choked with traffic. Another reason is that Lyft pays higher bonuses during those hours because fewer drivers want to work at night.
Powell also drives for Uber, but says that he only turns on his Uber app during really slow times. He prefers to work for Lyft because of the corporate culture and the company’s community involvement.
Though he ususally signs off work around 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., Powell says that he is naturally a morning person.
“My grandfather told me that a man can get used to anything but hanging,” he says of having to reverse his sleeping schedule.
Powell’s 2016 Ford car already has 140,000 miles on it. He drives between 200 and 250 miles a night. As people get in and out of the vehicle for rides, Powell makes it a point to be friendly. He tends to fill up any quiet time with questions about holiday plans and stories about his own family. He falls silent, though, when a passenger gives off a vibe that they want to be left alone.
“Sometimes you can tell someone is just really tired,” he says.
All ride-share cars have to seat at least four passengers. When he stops to pick up a group, I jump out to make more room. The car is full and Powell picks me back up after dropping off the party of four.
“One of the biggest challenges,” Powell says “is finding a place to pee.” He seems to know the location of every open porta potty in Portland. During the six hours we are together, we only make two pit stops: one at a construction site porta potty and one at Taco Bell restaurant.
Powell has worked several different jobs, including fast-food restaurant management. He says that ride-share driving pays better and has fewer headaches. He also likes the flexibility so that he can spend time with his family. He’s been driving now for three years and has provided more than 10,000 rides, including one all the way to Seattle. Most of the time he says his job is “driving in circles around Portland.”
I ask Powell if he’s worried about the coming autonomous vehicle revolution which promises to make his job obsolete. He brushes this off. One of the reasons he likes the flexibility of driving is that he is finishing up an MBA.
Tory and I part ways a little before 5 a.m. I feel bad because he’s had to miss an opportunity for an airport pickup to bring me back to my car. He plans to do a few more runs before heading home to sleep through the morning while his kids are at school.