Ride-share platform Lyft launches its pink-mustachioed cars in St. Paul today
|Lyft's pink mustache makes an advance appearance outside Glam Doll Donuts in Minneapolis.|
- Uber, the car service for techies, launches in MSP
Imagine, you need a ride and cue up Lyft's smartphone app. One of Lyft's drivers -- maybe an office commuter en route to start the day downtown, or a folk musician with hours to kill -- sees the call, and picks you up in his or her normal ride (plus the signature Lyft car 'stache). Once you reach your destination, Lyft's app suggests a fee and facilitates payment, and then you and your driver rate each other so that other users can gauge your experience.
"We started with the idea of being able to fill those empty seats in cars and let people be more efficient," says Lyft spokesperson Erin Simpson. "The challenge with something new is explaining to people what this is and what it isn't."
Whether the Lyft model sounds genius or bizarre probably depends on whether you're already familiar with similar peer-to-peer services, like the room-rental site Airbnb. Lyft knows that many people's initial response to such services centers around safety questions, and the company is quick to point out that it has a $1 million liability insurance policy for drivers, and that its drivers have to pass phone and in-person meetings, vehicle inspections, and background checks.
Despite these precautions, Lyft, like competing ride-share start-ups Uber, GroundLink, and SideCar, has often tangled with regulators and cab companies across the country.
In St. Paul, however, licensing laws don't prevent ride-sharing: vehicles only need to have a taxi license if they have a meter. In advance of its local launch, Simpson says, Lyft worked with Mayor Chris Coleman's office to secure the city's blessing.
But in Minneapolis, where Lyft has not yet set a date for its pending launch, more regulatory hurdles may lie ahead. As the Star Tribune reported, current city ordinances require taxi licenses. For now, at least, Minneapolis riders will have to be content with picking up a Lyft in St. Paul and requesting a trip across the river.
News of Lyft's St. Paul launch comes in the same month that the one-year-old start-up hit its millionth ride, and on the same day that it's expanding into two other cities, Indianapolis and Atlanta, a move that brings its total markets to 10.
Lyft isn't alone in its success: Car sharing is booming. According to the industry website Venture Beat, Uber, which launched in the Twin Cities in October 2012, is now valued at $3.5 billion.