Lyft launches in New Orleans area

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The app-based ride service Lyft (featuring tell-tale pink mustaches on its cars) launches in New Orleans on March 3. - COURTESY LYFT
  • COURTESY LYFT
  • The app-based ride service Lyft (featuring tell-tale pink mustaches on its cars) launches in New Orleans on March 3.

Ride-hailing app Lyft hits New Orleans streets at noon Thursday, March 3. Drivers will begin offering rides in Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles and St. Tammany parishes. Lyft won't offer rides to or from Louis Armstrong International Airport yet, but company representatives say they're working on an arragement with MSY.

The company — which has roughly 315,000 drivers picking up 5 million passengers a year in 200 cities — now shares the road with its other app-based competitor Uber. Lyft users use a peer-to-peer service on the iOS or Android app by hailing a ride from nearby drivers (in pink mustache-equipped cars) with payment all handled through a mobile device.

Lyft's coverage map for the New Orleans metro area. Drivers are not yet traveling to or from MSY. - COURTESY LYFT
  • COURTESY LYFT
  • Lyft's coverage map for the New Orleans metro area. Drivers are not yet traveling to or from MSY.
Lyft has had its eye on New Orleans since 2015, when the New Orleans City Council approved an ordinance allowing Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) in the city. Those companies, which include app-based hail-a-ride services like Lyft and Uber, compete directly with the city's long-standing cab industry, which went through city-legislated updates in 2012, from requiring newer model cars to outfitting fleets with GPS and credit card machines, among other reforms.

Uber's UberX service began operating almost immediately, but Lyft's government relations director Michael Masserman told Gambit that last-minute changes to the ordinance — including insurance changes and an amendment that prevents driver or rider contract clauses requiring arbitration before taking a case to court — "make it very difficult to operate in the market ... Not just for Lyft and Uber but for anyone in the ridesharing industry. There's potentially overly burdensome litigation costs and insurance measures that have been legislated ahead of or before the private sector."

But in a statement to Gambit, Masserman said, "By creating a regulatory framework for ridesharing that prioritizes public safety and consumer choice, New Orleans has demonstrated its commitment to welcoming innovation."

Company representatives say New Orleans is emblematic of Lyft's people-connecting service. Jaime Raczka, who oversees Lyft operations in New Orleans, say the company's mission is to connect communities and ensure riders a safe, affordable ride home. Drivers, she told Gambit, are "people in your community ... using it as a great part-time economic opportunity." Prospective drivers can apply to be a part-time Lyft driver on its website or directly on its app.

As quickly as TNCs have expanded into new cities and markets, lawsuits and controversies follow. This year, several New Orleans cab drivers sued 10 Uber drivers for what they saw as an unfair advantage — Uber drivers don't have state chauffeur's licenses or commercial driver's licenses, which cab drivers argue violates state law. The suit challenges the "disparate treatment" imposed upon cab drivers compared to Uber drivers, pointing to cab drivers' licenses, background checks, drug tests, passenger monitors, fare meters and regulated fares. The suit says cab drivers who failed those requirements now can drive for Uber.

According to a February report from Landrieu's office, TNCs made 1.2 million rides in New Orleans in 2015. There were 2.8 million cab rides in 2015, down slightly from 2014's 2.9 million.


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