One by one, riders and passengers of fast-growing Lyft came up to the microphone Thursday night in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, sharing their stories about how the ride-sharing startup has had a positive impact on their lives.
Some spoke about the friends they had made through Lyft. One driver liked how it provided a safe and convenient option for his kids to get home after a night out. Many touched on the community aspect of it all.
“We’re trying to build the startup culture here in Seattle, and Lyft totally brings that energy of a more vibrant entrepreneurial feel,” said Amber Jin, a Lyft rider. “It’s what we need more of here.”
But while the couple hundred people that gathered Thursday for Lyft’s second-ever “Community Meeting” shared similar feelings, there are others in the city that aren’t so happy about this whole ride-sharing craze.
Taxi companies in Seattle and other cities are concerned that the three ride-sharing companies — Lyft, Sidecar and Uber — are cutting into their customer base with services that say require far less regulation and oversight. They’re letting the city hear about it — quite literally.
Lyft co-founder John Zimmer, who flew up from San Francisco for the event, understands this point of view, but he has a unique take on it.
“This is not a zero-sum game where having this new service is bad for the old service,” he told GeekWire. “Having all of these services makes it easier for you to not need a car. Then, if you don’t have a car, you will use all of these services even more.”
The problem the taxi companies have is that Lyft and the others are not regulated by the city the same way taxis are. Technically, since the ride-sharing companies operate without any licensing or inspection by the city, some argue that the ride-sharing startups are conducting business illegally.
On top of that, they are certainly creating serious competition. Lyft and Sidecar allow riders to pay via “donation” with credit and debit cards linked to their smartphones, while Uber charges similar rates to taxis but does not require tips. These models typically save riders money over typical taxi services.
But as all three startups continue to do scoot around town, the City of Seattle and King County have yet to take action. The Seattle City Council will meet next Tuesday to review data relating to taxi and ride-sharing demand from consumers.
Perhaps the city will follow what the California Public Utilities Commission recently proposed: A new category called “Transportation Network Company” that requires entities like Lyft and Uber to be licensed, require criminal background checks for drivers, establish driver training programs and use a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol.
“We have been doing those things from the beginning because we felt like it was the right thing to do,” Zimmer said of the regulations. “If there’s another party that wants to make sure we are doing what we say we’re doing, I think that makes sense.”
Zimmer is big on both making transportation more efficient for cities (eliminating traffic, saving drivers money) and creating a sense of community with riders and passengers.
“Making systems to connect people unlocks what people really want, which is a sense of belonging,” he said.
The 29-year-old said he wants to collaborate with both the for-hire drivers, as well as his direct competitors in Sidecar and Uber. In the end, he knows the community wants more affordable and more sustainable transportation and that everyone can contribute to that goal.
“Change is coming,” said Zimmer, who co-founded the popular Zimride service in 2007. “One day, we will have self-driving cars. All of us need to adapt and I think as long as we’re all being respectful of each other, competition can be a good thing and new industries can be a good thing.”