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

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?

-The Rideshare Guy