April 18, 2014
It was a chilly evening to stand outside, and, anyway, I was running late for the bus to a meeting. So I decided to give Lyft a try. Lyft is a peer-to-peer cab service that's technically illegal under utility laws in Pennsylvania and many other states. Nonetheless, it recently started up service in Pittsburgh.
Lyft drivers, who use their own personal cars, attach big, fuzzy pink mustaches to the grills of their vehicles and can be summoned through a smartphone application that, through GPS technology, shows your location and the drivers' as well. So while waiting, I watched an icon of a car bobbing toward me on a map on my iPhone screen.
Lyft was created with an environmental mission—to streamline transportation and reduce emissions. The service has caught on in many cities but it's unclear whether riders are more excited about the hope of lowering emissions or the chance to get a lower price and better service than Yellow Cab offers
My driver, Casey "Redd" Gaspari, certainly tooted the horn of environmental benefits. She pointed out that her new Scion is extremely good on gas.
And, she added, "instead of congesting the area, (the service) decongests because of the ability of one person to go around and take them where they need to be, rather than everyone getting in their own vehicles or on buses, or wherever."
Hmm, it seems unlikely that in my case, swapping my regular bus trip and adding a single vehicle on the road is a benefit, but I suppose knowing that I have more ride options keeps me from buying a car that I'd inevitably use more often. I'm not giving up my $97.50 monthly bus pass yet, since one short ride on Lyft cost $9. But I will probably get a Lyft, or use a similar service that exists—Uber—again.
Next time, it might even be legal. Traditional cab companies have put up a fight here and elsewhere because, for years, they've paid licensing fees to states to operate, and have been required to comply with rules they say have resulted in the spotty service riders have complained about. Now Pennsylvania's utility commission chairman and Pittsburgh's mayor have expressed willingness to let the cars stay on the road. And Yellow Cab in Pittsburgh is even starting up its own smartphone-based ride app.