Controversial ride-sharing service opens in city

A Lyft car cruises through San Fransisco. The service is now available in Pittsburgh.
A Lyft car cruises through San Fransisco. The service is now available in Pittsburgh.
A Lyft car cruises through San Fransisco. The service is now available in Pittsburgh.

By Kaye Burnet | The Duquesne Duke

Pittsburgh’s newest transportation option is filling the streets with fuzzy pink mustaches.

Lyft, a California-based ride-sharing company, opened its Pittsburgh branch on Friday with success, despite the opposition of competitors like Yellow Cab. Drivers have had non-stop work ever since the app opened, according to Lyft driver Shea Kraft.

Lyft connects customers to drivers through a mobile app, available on iPhones and Androids. Customers download the app, enter their credit card information and then use the app to request a ride.

Lyft drivers provide their own cars, marking them on the front with large pink mustaches. The cars must be inspected and manufactured after 2000, according to the company’s website.

The app uses the GPS function in smart phones to provide a map of Pittsburgh that shows riders where the nearest drivers are. The app estimates how many minutes away each driver is, and riders can move a small pin around the screen to signify where they would like to be picked up.

Kraft has been busy since Friday.

“After I drop someone off, within five minutes I get another request,” Kraft said.

Lyft encourages its drivers to create a fun and friendly environment. Drivers can give out food, greet customers with fist-bumps and even wear costumes, according to Kraft.

“I know there’s one guy who dresses up like the Big Lebowski,” Kraft said.

Kraft offers free mints to his riders, and lets them play their own music through his car speakers.

Kraft uses a phone holder, provided by Lyft, to run the app in his car. After being contacted by a customer, Kraft follows the app’s GPS instructions to find the rider. The GPS function is not entirely reliable, though. Kraft struggled to find the Duquesne Student Union.

“It took me a lot longer than it should have,” Kraft said. “The satellites aren’t always accurate.”

The service has drawn criticism from taxi companies in the city. Those companies are licensed and regulated by the state Public Utility Commission.

Yellow Cab Vice President Jerry Campolongo said Lyft drivers do not have to meet the same requirements as his taxi drivers.

“I would be careful, riding in one of those cars,” Campolongo said. “You don’t know who’s driving, they aren’t certified and you don’t know what insurance they have.”

Campolongo refused to comment on how Yellow Cab was safer, saying only, “They [Lyft cars] are illegal. That’s all you need to know.” He did not offer further explanation.

Lyft avoids certain regulations and costs by not filing as a transportation company. According to the company’s “Terms of Agreement” that every customer must acknowledge, “…Lyft is not a transportation carrier…Lyft offers information and a method to connect drivers and riders but does not intend to provide transportation services…”

Rides are paid for through the app by credit card donation. After a ride, the app will prompt the rider to pay a suggested donation, and the rider can choose to increase or decrease the actual payment.

According to Kraft, customers who pay badly, or do not pay at all, will have difficulty finding rides.

“At the end of the ride, the customer rates the driver and the driver rates the customer,” Kraft said.

Ratings are given out of five stars. Customers who pay poorly will be given low ratings, and drivers will be able to see those ratings on the app. Customers can give dangerous, late, or rude drivers low ratings, which will be visible to future riders.

“It’s self-policing. Bad drivers will get weeded out quickly, just like bad passengers,” Kraft said.

Kraft saw an ad for Lyft drivers online and applied. To be hired, Kraft had to be over 23, submit a picture of his car with its make and model, go to a training session, and pass a background check. Lyft also examined his driving history.

Kraft encouraged customers to sign up quickly, because for every person who downloads the app until Feb. 21, they will receive $25 toward every Lyft ride.

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