February 13, 2015 by Charles Burnett
Personal car service and Uber competitor Lyft has recently entered the Philadelphia market. To celebrate, it is offering 20 free rides for up to $20 per trip. This certainly sounds like a fantastic deal. However, like all things that seem too good to be true, this deal is as real as the drivers their service claims to provide. The catch in this case is that according to the Lyft app itself, there are currently at most, six drivers in the entire city. That’s right, for the 1.5 million Philadelphia residents, there is what seems to be only six lonely drivers to satisfy their demands.
The proof of the above claim lies strictly in personal experience. On six separate occasions, I attempted to use my free rides with times ranging from an early morning, to the afternoon, evening and of course a Saturday night. Each separate time the map on the Lyft app presented one or zero drivers in the entire city — with the exception of a Wednesday night, where there appeared to be only six drivers. Each time I requested a Lyft, my app was immediately sent a notice stating that either all drivers were busy or that none were in the area. This was regardless of whether there were available cars on the map.
One could chalk this up to a badly timed business move: the company gave out the rides, but it could not deliver the drivers. It’s a classic and somewhat literal example of putting the cart before the horse. However, these free rides expire Feb. 22 which, being within two weeks of this publication, make them largely useless.
However, this is not to say that Lyft has been doing a poor job in other cities. Lyft has been giving Uber and various taxi companies a real run for their money in cities like New York and Los Angeles.
Perhaps the whole situation can be understood better from a legal standpoint. Despite Pennsylvania giving the green light for Lyft to operate within the state for the next two years, the Philadelphia Parking Authority (an independent state agency) explicitly states it is not going to allow the company to operate within its limits, even while City Council is supportive. To enforce this, the Parking Authority will be giving out $1,000 fines to any driver who is caught working for the service. This may be a huge disincentive for potential drivers, though Lyft has already stated they will be compensating their drivers for any fines received. For some people, this may not be enough to convince them to work for the company if they would still be operating illegally.
Charles Burnett is a junior political science major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected].