Bob* has lived in Park City all of his life and enjoys the bustle that comes into town during the annual Sundance Film Festival. After he retired, he started driving for Lyft six years ago. During the 10-day festival, he likes chatting with industry folks running to catch cocktails and screenings. But one recent topic of conversation has been upsetting.
“People ask me all the time what drivers make, and I’m always happy to tell them,” he said. “But since the festival started this year, it’s like they flipped a switch and we’re getting less. All of my passengers are saying, ‘Why am I paying $40 for this ride and you’re only getting $8? How’s that fair?’”
Variety spoke with several Lyft drivers, based out of both Park City and Salt Lake City, who claimed their pay-per-ride dropped once the festival started on Jan. 19. Additionally, they said that many of the “bonuses” that are normally offered to drivers have dried up during the festival. Lyft defines “bonuses” as supplemental earnings “which are most commonly offered during the busiest times in the busiest locations.”
Per Lyft’s official website, driver pay is calculated by “how long you drive during a ride (time), how far you drive during a ride (distance), 100% of what passengers tip you (tips), and bonuses you make (bonuses). The biggest part of your earnings will be from the time and distance driven with your passenger in the car, plus you get all of your tips and bonuses.”
Yet drivers said that once the festival started, their take-home pay dipped to about half of what they were used to.
Joe, a Salt Lake City-based driver who intended to spend most days through festival’s Jan. 29 end date taking rides in Park City, decided to change his plans two days into the festival.
“They’re not paying enough, they used to pay better,” Joe said. “It’s not worth enough to come here — it’s a lot of miles, traffic and time for not much in return. The pay in Salt Lake City is better.”
Eric, a Park City local, said that he’s been tracking fares, and they’ve shot up during the festival, but he’s not getting any more money in return for ferrying people around town.
“The price goes up on the rides, but there’s less money for me,” he said. “Tell me how that math works.”
Lyft is also an official partner of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, with its logo emblazoned on much of the promotional material that adorns the mountain community. Additionally, riders looking to head to Park City’s bustling Main Street, where many of the media studios and installations are taking place, are automatically routed to Lyft-branded drop-off points adjacent to their destination.
Lyft prepped drivers for the event with a Jan. 12 post on “The Driver Blog” on their website, breaking down the dates of the festival, the possible influx of riders, and a map of drop-off points. The rideshare company also wrote that “We’ll be reaching out to local drivers with more pro tips on how to make the most of The 2023 Sundance Film Festival.” None of the drivers Variety spoke to had received additional messaging from Lyft.
When asked about the drivers’ claims, a Lyft spokesperson released a statement to Variety, saying, “We’re aware of heightened demand at the Sundance Film festival where Lyft is the official rideshare partner. We’ve worked hard to create an enjoyable rider and driver experience at the festival and average driver earnings have remained steady during the festivities.”
Variety also reached out to Sundance for comment.
The final sting? Despite the cost to attend Sundance, Bob admitted that most of the festival-goers this year aren’t great tippers.
“It’s tough for everyone right now, but come on — tip your driver,” Bob said.
*Driver names have been changed in order to protect their livelihoods.