up Lyft

As a somewhat famous person in the field of transportation within Minneapolis, from time to time companies give you products in exchange for reviews. In this case, Lyft gave me a free Lift in exchange for a review. Since I was planning to try Lyft anyway, this seemed opportune. And since I was participating in the Theater of Public Policy, I actually needed a ride from point A to point B, a trip that transit planners agreed was not optimally served by transit, (i.e. there was a 1/2 mile walk or a transfer) and was too far to walk.

Step 1. Download the App. I use iOS, this is easy.

Step 2. Enter the required info

Step 3. Enter the promo code. They said it was for $50, but the app only applied $25 apparently, OOPS. I did however get an email following upgrading me to a “Lyft Pioneer” giving 5 $25 rides in the next two weeks. I guess that’s how I will get home too.

Step 4. Summon a Ride.

Step 5. Get in the Car

Step 6. Tell Driver Destination

Step 7. Ride

Step 8. Get out of the Car.

Step 9. Check App to “Pay Driver”

Repeat 4-9 to go home.


Step 10. Write this review.

The app is straight-forward to use. The only thing missing was for me to enter the expected destinations in the app before drivers “bid” on me, which would seem to better match drivers with where they want to go. On the other hand, that might lead to too few drivers “bidding” on prospective customers. (I am not entirely clear how it works from the drivers perspective, and don’t really plan to become a driver, so am not sure exactly how customers are matched to drivers. I assume some of this is proprietary).

Lyft ride #1, in a Mercedes
Lyft ride #1, in a Mercedes

The rides went well. The first driver picked me up within 11 minutes. He didn’t have the pink mustache on his car, but called me on arrival and then I saw which car it was. He took me to my destination with a minimum of confusion (he had 3 GPS systems in the car, two on smart-phones and one built in). The bill was $17 (UMN to Bryant Lake Bowl), though as noted, I had Lyft Credits already. He was doing this while (temporarily?) unemployed. His vehicle was quite nice, including a back massager in the front seat. (With Lyft it seems customary to get in the front, in contrast with Taxi 1.0, where the paying passenger sits in the second row). We chatted a bit. He says he started recently and does this part time, for about 4 passengers a day, though it is not very profitable for him. (And given his car and previous line of work, I imagine not).

At the end of T2_P2, I summoned a second driver from Lyft, who arrived within 2 minutes. I was also texted when he arrived, though I identified his car, which did have the mustache. He does this a few hours a day between his main gig which is in the catering field and thus sporadic. He has been doing this since last fall when Lyft started in St. Paul. From Bryant Lake Bowl to Prospect Park was $14. I received receipts in my inbox almost immediately. My donations to the drivers were  automatic.

Lyft ride #2, in a Corrolla.
Lyft ride #2, in a Corrolla.

Without making any broad social statement (though readers are free to infer), the racial composition of Lyft drivers is noticeably different from the racial composition of Taxi 1.0 drivers in Minneapolis. Since moving to Minneapolis I believe I have had 1 white (immigrant) taxi driver, while both Lyft drivers were white.

Lyft is just an app with a back-end dispatch service. They claim to be a ” transportation network company whose mobile-phone application facilitates peer-to-peer ridesharing by enabling passengers who need a ride to request one from drivers who have a car.” They insist the drivers are independent (as are the riders). The difference between this and a taxi dispatcher is thin. Google says a taxicab is:

a car licensed to transport passengers in return for payment of a fare, usually fitted with a taximeter.

So for taxicabs, the arrangement between the rider and the passenger is mediated by the government (which licenses the vehicles).

Are Lyft drivers licensed to transport passengers for payment? No, they are licensed drivers, and any licensed driver (above a certain age, level of experience) is eligible to carry passengers. The cars are private cars (at least sometimes) though that is little different than how taxis operate in other parts of the world. I am told many Singaporean taxi drivers will take fares when going between where they are going anyway, but otherwise treat the taxis as a personal vehicle. Lyft passengers “donate” to drivers (like a tip, although it is more or less automatic). I guess voluntary payment differs from contractual payment legally, sort of, kind of. The courts will decide. Lyft does insure its drivers, which makes this even murkier.

Also,  here is a $25 discount code for you if you want to try it yourself:  “TRANSPORT” (valid only for new users)

They also gave me this information:

I don’t think Lyft yet does jitney (shared taxi, dollar van, informal transport) type services (which undoubtedly they would spell Jytney … register that domain now kids).  These would serve either one pickup going to multiple destinations, or multiple pickups going to one destination, or multiple origins to multiple destinations, and would begin to compete with public transit. (Though it would not be exactly fixed routes, one could imagine regular runs with a known coterie of passengers). Presumably this would be at a lower rate.

I have not yet tried Uber. I may use Lyft again from time-to-time. At $30 or so round-trip within the city, it is more expensive than driving and parking when I have a car at my disposal, and certainly more expensive than transit, or car2go and may be comparable to taxi. But if I am without a vehicle, or someone else is paying, it is a nice option to have.