Lyft Wants You to Be Fuzzy BFFs With Your Driver

26 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Uber Bill’ Provides Steeper Competition for Taxi CompaniesRidesharing platform Lyft has teased a new upcoming feature in its mobile apps that will let passengers and drivers “share fun facts about themselves and discover mutual friends and interests.” Digging a little deeper, it seems what we’re talking about here are simple user profiles — the popular peer-to-peer transport network will soon let users see more information on each other, thus giving things more of a personal touch.

In 1971, Herb Kelleher, a founder of Southwest Airlines, had an idea: As competition in the burgeoning airline industry intensified, he wanted to make his small, regional carrier stand out among aviation giants.Controversy in Michigan over ride services such as Uber and Lyft continued Wednesday afternoon as the Michigan Senate’s Regulatory Reform Committee discussed two bills proposing to regulate similar companies in the state.Sponsored by Senator Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, the bill would keep power in the hands of ridesharing companies to conduct their own drivers’ background checks and vehicle safety inspections rather than require state oversight. Launching initially for iOS with Android to follow “soon,” the new optional profile feature lets you complete your hometown, favorite music, and an open-ended mini bio which can include anything from your job details and star sign, to favorite football team and allergies.

Use sex — or rather, sexual undertones — to sell the airline’s identity; flight attendants regularly wore hot pants or short skirts, and were billed as symbols of hospitality and “love,” as it were. For most of Tuesday afternoon in an Annapolis hearing room, members of the Maryland Senate Finance Committee heard testimony, asked questions, told Uber supporters waving signs to sit down and even admonished the company over their lobbying tactics. But why one for music, specifically? “We added favorite music because music is both a universal and personal connector,” explains Lyft in a blog post. Directly across from them, the people supplying testimony included suddenly-chummy officials from fiercely competing ridesharing and insurance companies, taxicab industry veterans pleading their case and regulators summing up more than two years of work. Unlike Uber, the giant ride-hailing start-up with its powerful name and sleek, black-and-silver branding, Lyft has gone for a warmer, fuzzier exterior.

While Uber has taken the personal transport world by storm, with numerous different options depending on location and budget, Lyft has remained a U.S.-only affair since its inception back in 2012. With the click of a button, anyone can have a car in front of their building within minutes, complete with a driver who’s prepared to go anywhere as long as there is a bank account ready to provide the funds. Ferguson and Uber have framed the General Assembly’s role as answering the “ultimate policy question” about how the state should oversee the businesses. When Uber came to the Detroit area in December 2013, the Michigan Department of Transportation notified the companies of transportation laws in the state. However, Uber has stated that it doesn’t think their model is bound by those laws, causing complaints from both lawmakers and traditional taxi services.

After a settlement over operations of Uber’s luxury services, the PSC proposed its latest set of regulations for all ridesharing companies in February. And it’s this “social” element that Lyft is addressing with the new profile feature — you can see exactly who it is you’ll be sharing a car with. “In cities with Lyft Line, we’ve heard countless stories of Line passengers connecting over shared interests or acquaintances,” says Lyft. “Profiles makes unearthing these small-world connections even easier, and is a big step toward our vision of reconnecting people and communities through better transportation.” Jones said his bill was designed to correct several discrepancies between taxicab services and ridesharing companies, namely those concerning insurance.

Unlike past proposals, the latest documents are designed for “Transprotation Network Services,” and acknowledge ridesharing-specific provisions like surge pricing. On Thursday, Lyft plans to add user profiles for drivers and passengers to its app, essentially adding another personal touch to the act of taking a ride somewhere. A minimum $1 million insurance policy is also required for traditional taxicabs, but under state licensing rules, cabs have to provide documentation of that to the state. PSC staff members were given a chance to weigh in on Tuesday, but the state senators on the committee saw themselves tasked with poring over the regulations on this occasion. I once entered a Lyft car (Lyft is exactly like Uber except it is a different company and its name is Lyft) and realized the driver was deaf and seemingly mute.

Taxicabs are also required to have their vehicle inspected, to register vehicles for $50 and to pay a one-time fee of $300, along with a renewal fee of $50, to receive a Certificate of Authority. Uber has not supported passage of these bills, but in an interview Wednesday, Uber Michigan Manager Michael White said Uber is open to having a regulatory structure that more closely follows their business model, citing commercial insurance policies in particular. “We want to make sure every trip is covered by commercial level insurance by order of regulation that codifies that at the city or state level,” he said. I couldn’t be mad at the driver, who was doing his best to overcome a difficult language barrier (which Lyft had obviously done nothing to compensate for or help him with). He noted that he does not want Uber to stop business, just to follow the laws that will allow for fair competition. “We’re not trying to put Uber out of business,” he said. “We want them to prosper, but they just need to play by the rules and be responsible corporate citizens.” John Etter, president of Blue Cab Company, expressed similar views.

Maybe my worry is all for naught, and I should just abandon my orthopedic shoes and blindly trust these newfangled car services so that I can get with the times. He said these bills would foster public safety and bring order to Uber’s “chaotic” business model. “I think it’s a good development and I hope it passes and then Uber can continue competing, but without the massive, pretty unfair advantages they currently enjoy, such as not paying insurance, which, of course, is one of my biggest expenses,” he said.

Wampler has helped revamp Lyft’s image, swapping the furry mustaches that Lyft drivers stuck to their cars with the “glowstache,” a luminescent replica that sits atop a driver’s dashboard so that passengers can spot their rides. He said the incidents demonstrated that increased regulation would improve the safety of passengers and hold Uber to the same standards as other transportation companies. Instead of hailing a personal car, calling a Lyft Line offers passengers a discount for picking up one or two more people who are traveling along a similar route. Another common issue taxicab drivers highlighted in regards to ridesharing companies is surge pricing, a pricing model Uber uses to increase fares when there is high demand. The company staged a rally outside the Senate office building prior to the hearing, and a host of drivers and even one rider was onhand to speak. “It allows me to get out of the house and do the things that I need to do,” said Aaliyah Sullivan, a frequent Lyft passenger from Oxon Hill in Prince George’s County near the D.C. line.

Topics of conversation are easily available, for instance, or a driver may play a track from a passenger’s favorite band. “When you build a product that touches millions of people, it should be human, not transactional,” said John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft. Representatives from insurance companies such as State Farm, USAA and Farmers also showed at the hearing to voice support for amending language covering the ridesharing companies’ insurance. Last November, it launched a partnership with Spotify, the streaming music service, which allows a user to control the music while riding in an Uber car.

A graduate of Northeastern University, he moved to Baltimore following a stint in New Orleans, where he served as managing editor of online news and culture publication NOLA Defender. But unlike Lyft, which is striving to differentiate itself so it is not seen as a commodity form of car-hailing transportation, Uber is ubiquitous in many urban areas and has a far larger footprint globally.

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