Are Lyft’s New Heat Maps A Good Thing For Drivers?

Drive with Uber 1

For someone like me who mainly drives during busy times, Uber’s Surge and Lyft’s Prime Time Pricing are a big part of why I can make so much per hour.  I like being able to turn on the app whenever I’m bored but that doesn’t always correlate to the highest earnings potential.  I need the occasional long ride on double surge to help boost my earnings and make it worthwhile.

Related Podcast: How I Averaged Over $40/hr Over One Weekend Of Driving

Whenever I hit the road, my goal is to make around $20-$30 per hour.  And even with the latest fare cuts, I’ve been able to achieve the lower end of this, but I will admit it’s been getting tougher.  Instead of complaining about the lower fares though, I’m constantly figuring out ways to get more rides, get longer rides and be more efficient when I do drive.  This mentality won’t work for everyone but if I’m not happy with my situation I’m going to do something about it instead of complaining or relying on someone else to fix things.

Lyft’s New Heat Maps

Lyft Heat Maps Prime TimeBy now, just about everyone should have the new updated Lyft app that shows heat maps instead of other drivers.  Despite some pretty vehement opposition from drivers, Lyft has been rolling out this new feature over the past few weeks.  The biggest complaint isn’t about the new maps themselves though, it’s about the loss of other driver icons.  I guess the engineers at Lyft couldn’t figure out how to put pink squares and driver icons on the map at the same time so they got rid of the latter.

According to Lyft, heat maps show where Prime Time is in real time.  So the darker the squares, the more Prime Time you’ll get (remember PT is capped at 200% with Lyft).  When there’s no PT, the map would be completely blank.

How Does This Affect My Driving Style During Prime Time?

Since I normally drive during busy times, it’s usually pretty obvious when/where Prime Time will occur.  But there are many instances where I’m on the fence about driving and seeing Prime Time on the map is what I need to get my butt off the coach and go drive.  In the past, with Lyft, this was very difficult because the only way I could track Prime Time was by moving the pin around on the passenger side of the app.  Now there’s a quick and easy way to log on to the app and see what the Prime Time Situation is looking like.

It would be ideal if it also showed other drivers on the road but during Prime Time that won’t really matter much.  By definition, we know that there aren’t enough drivers in PT areas.  In order for areas to go Prime Time, there has to be a combination of high passenger requests and low driver availability.  We don’t know exactly how much those items are weighted but my guess is that high passenger requests takes more precedence in the Lyft algorithm.  With Lyft PT, I never seem to have to wait very long for a request which would indicate that more passengers are requesting rides than there are available drivers.

Related Article: Do You Make More Money With Lyft or Uber?

I think the PT maps are actually a good thing because they will give you an indication of how busy things are.  But contrary to what Lyft tells you, I don’t think it makes sense to chase PT areas.  PT occurs when there are more requests coming in than available drivers so if you send drivers to that area then PT is likely to go away.

I use PT more as an indicator of what the night is going to be like but I never chase it.  This is one of the biggest mistakes I see new and even experienced drivers making at times.  The only time it makes sense to go into a PT zone is when you know that it’s going to be there for a while.  Here are a few times I’ll go towards a PT area:

  • Closing Time: Any time bars are closing you know there’s going to be a rush of PT and demand will always outweigh the number of available drivers.
  • Special Events: This is another obvious PT time but I would rather hang out on the outskirts of PT then go right into the heart of it.
  •  Holidays: During holiday weekends and holidays especially, there’s always a lot going on and this is one of the best times to chase PT since there will be constant demand.  During the last big holiday, every ride I gave was at surge/PT pricing.

How Does This Affect Your Driving Style During Non PT Hours?

The new heat maps are going to have the biggest effect during non PT hours when positioning is a lot more important.  But it might not have as big of an impact as you might think.  Personally, I’ve found the best strategy after making a drop-off is to wait in that area for 5-10 mins before moving.  A study done by Uber agrees with me too.

I think a lot of the people upset about this change may not understand how the Lyft pick-up request system works.  In my first podcast, I explained that your driver radius expands the longer you go without a ride.  So you would get priority over someone that’s closer to a passenger request if you’ve been waiting longer.  So even though you can no longer see other drivers on the map, if you’re right next to another driver, you will get priority if you’ve been waiting longer.

Here’s an example to illustrate my point:

Let’s say you drop off a Passenger at Point A and there is another Lyft driver sitting there in the parking lot (he’s been there for 5 minutes).  5 minutes go by and there is a request at Point B three miles away.  The second driver is going to get that request since even though you are the same distance away, he has been waiting longer so his radius is going to take priority over yours.

Now let’s imagine the same scenario but after you make your drop-off at Point A you see there’s another driver and you decide to move to Point B.  5 minutes go by and a request comes at Point B.  You’re still not going to get that request because the other driver who’s now been waiting 10 minutes at Point A is going to have priority.  So you just spent time/money to get to Point B but you didn’t even get the request.

You’re now the only driver at Point B but you also could have been the only driver if you stayed at Point A.

Use the Heat Maps to Your Advantage

I think it’s great to voice your opinion on the change and let Lyft know what you think but ultimately they’re going to do what they want.  How many times have you seen a new company come out with a change or so called ‘improvement’ and the public go into full outrage mode?  This happens all the time when Facebook updates their layout or Microsoft Office changes things around.  People go berserk but after a couple months they get over it.

Believe it or not, companies like Lyft have people who specialize in design and user interfaces.  It’s their job to make changes like this to enhance driver/user experience.  Most people don’t like change so that’s why they complain – that’s just human nature.

I for one plan on using the heat maps to determine trends in Prime Time: maybe there’s a certain area that always goes Prime Time early on in the night and by positioning yourself there ahead of time you can score a few PT rides before other drivers flood the area.  Or you could use the heat maps to position yourself on the outskirts of the PT zone during special events like I talked about in my last article.  That way you would be able to get PT rides from normal passengers outside of the special event zone without having to deal with all the crazy traffic and mess trying to find your passenger.

Related Article: Driving Strategies During Special Events

Driver icons may be coming back in the future but for now heat maps are here to stay.  It’s up to you to figure out how to take advantage of them and increase your earnings.  It’s getting harder and harder to make the big bucks with recent fare cuts and more drivers on the road.  So now more than ever, it pays to understand things like heat maps and Lyft’s pick-up request system.  It’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter.

Readers, what do you think about Lyft’s new heat maps and how do you plan on taking advantage of them?  Is the ability to position yourself away from other drivers that important to you now that you understand how the pick up request system works?

Make Every Mile Count

Did you know that every 1,000 business miles can save you $540 in taxes? Never miss another mile with the new QuickBooks Self-Employed automatic mileage tracker.

-The Rideshare Guy

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone
The following two tabs change content below.
I'm Harry, the owner and founder of The Rideshare Guy Blog and Podcast. I used to be a full-time engineer but now I'm a rideshare blogger! I write about my experience driving for Uber, Lyft, and other services and my goal is to help drivers earn more money by working smarter, not harder.
  • Lyftmama

    I too, like the Lyft’s maps. And, as a spreadsheet/analytics junkie like yourself, I think there is a lot of good information to be had in as far as determining PT areas in advance. My only gripe about there no longer being any driver icons on the map, is that as one of the extremely few nightcrawling female Lyft drivers on the rode (I will seldom if ever see another woman on the road after 3AM), I always sort of kept an eye out as to where some of the other drivers were parked — just in case. It was really just more of a comfort/safety thing for me, that’s why it was so disappointing when it was gone.

    • Yea I think people are over-reacting because they don’t like change. Some of the comments on that Lyft article were pretty intense! I think that’s definitely where the heat maps come in handy too. You don’t necessarily want to use them to chase PT but you can use them to determine trends, hot spots, etc and take advantage of that info in the future.

      I didn’t think about that from a women’s perspective but I completely understand what you mean. I bet they’ll bring them back eventually 🙂

      • Scott Van Maldegiam

        One thing I will be doing once I get a new phone is to keep my old phone and wifi tether it to my old phone. I will use my old phone to monitor the Lyft and Uber rider apps.

        • That’s a good idea, you’ll only be able to see the drivers very locally but that’s better than nothing 🙂

  • Guan_yu

    Heat Maps have NO direct relationship to Prime Time.

    I’ve met the developer of Heat Maps and he stated that it only shows areas where passenger requests are higher than normal.

    Prime Time is much more localized than Heat Maps. Prime Time maybe in place on one side of the street, while not on the other. It is also very dynamic, since it’s updated every 30 seconds.

    You can drive continuously in the boxes and never see Prime Time. And you can get Prime Time when not in the boxes.

    Don’t believe me? Go into the passenger side and move your pin around in the boxes, you will notice that it’s not all Prime Time. In fact, it very rare to find Prime Time even in the darkest of boxes.

    Most importantly, LYft has stated that you may be “more likely” to get Prime Time in the box, but there is no guarantee.

    • Lyft/Uber developers love to talk, you wouldn’t believe how many e-mails/comments I get from people saying they’ve talked to a developer haha.

      I’m not sure why you would say there is no relationship since PT and heat maps are both a function of high #’s of requests. PT requires some combination of low availability of drivers and/or high # of requests. It’s an algorithm and I don’t think a web developer would even be responsible for this – more of a mathematical problem/function than anything. Either way though, I think we would both agree that you shouldn’t chase PT/heat maps unless it’s one of the scenarios I outlined above.

      Anyways, the only way to really test is to check on your passenger app whether it’s PT or not. And the times I’ve done it, it’s been PT so I’m going to stand by what I said until I see factual evidence that proves otherwise 🙂


    • Btw, I’ve been testing this over the past few weeks and every single time there has been a DIRECT correlation between heat maps and PT 🙂

  • Pingback: Why I Turned in My UberX iPhone and Now Drive for Lyft()

  • Sue

    Thanks for explaining how the Lyft pick up request system works. I thought it was just whoever was closest until I found your Blog. I sometimes click out of driver mode to see where the other drivers are. Does that restart my clock on how long I have waited. For example, I have waited 10 minutes then click off of driver mode for a couple of minutes and then back to driver mode…I’m betting I have now lost that 10 minutes of wait time. No more switching off for me…

    • No problem. Staying logged in will give you priority over other nearby drivers but it could also lead to a call that is 10-20 mins away. Those are the rides I try to avoid like the plague bc they are real earnings killers. If you have a high acceptance rate, that is the time to cancel or you can flip in and out of driver mode every 6-9 mins or so.

      But if you’re consistently waiting 10 mins+ for rides you may want to find another time to drive or turn on Uber app too. I’ve got some more info on pick-up strategies in my first podcast:

  • Niko K

    As for the Uber heat maps, I feel like they are BS because I see that I am the ONLY person in greenwich, ct. and the heatmap glows like crazy, and it goes into surge pricing, but for the 9 or 10 minutes, I dont get a single call, then it goes away, still no other drivers anywhere near the town……

    • The reason why you see that is because surge pricing takes into account: number of available drivers AND number of requests. We don’t know the percentages for sure but I would guess # of requests has more weight with Uber.

      I too have experienced 1.25-1.75x surge but no requests for 8-10 mins. Any time it’s over 2.0x though, I always seem to get requests within a minute or two. So what that means is that low driver numbers can get it into surge but the request numbers are low. If there are low drivers out and high request rate, that’s when you see the 2.0x+ surge.

  • Jim Mogal

    Im a newbie, I thought that hanging around one of the three large airports in the Miami zone the closest one to me is about 25 miles from my home

    • That could work, airport runs are very lucrative. Although Lyft is having some problems at airports these days. Uber has less.

  • TB

    The Lyft maps seldom work in my market raleigh. Most times you only know of prime time after a ride when you get the text. As for UBer surge and not getting a ping, Uber gives the oassager the choice to get notified after the surge is over.

    • Yea Lyft heat maps kinda suck haha. It doesn’t really matter if pax wait for the surge to go down or not, that doesn’t change the demand/supply. Another pax willing to pay surge will just step in and request that ride.

  • CK

    Harry, I’m brand new to Lyft, what tips do you have to make it a successful venture? I’d like to make as much as possible, but I’m by no means trying to assure that Lyft pays all of my bills. I work in Pasadena, CA, and have found myself quite far away from home on my first day and a half. I don’t have all of the experiences of the previous drivers since I just started last night, but I want to be sure I do not waste my time driving around chasing hot spots (which I’ve already learned) and sitting where riders are not. Could you throw some tips my way to get me off to a good start? Much appreciated. Thanks. CK

    • To start, I’d just focus on getting familiar with the app, the request system, etc. Then once you get the hang of things you can start strategizing a bit more. I’ve got a ton of info on the site but my top tips are:

      1. Follow the alcohol, Fri/Sat nights are the busiest and a good starting spot for newbies.

      2. Experiment: try different times, areas, etc – every city is different

      3. Stay away from the shorter rides. I avoid bar areas from 10-12 since everyone just wants to bar hop on $4 rides. Get people coming in from the suburbs and take people home to the suburbs, etc. Long rides are your friend 🙂

      Some helpful links to get you started (and definitely sign up for the e-mail list since you’ll get a free PDF with all my top articles, etc):

  • Peace

    Considering driving for Lyft, but was wondering if you can use the app when you are away from home? I travel quite a bit, but when I am in another town, I have time on my hands available to drive. Does anyone know if the app permits you to pick up folks anywhere you are, even if it’s far from your hometown?

    • Yea you can as long as Lyft is active in that area. You can check from the passenger side of the app 🙂