Uber Competitor Lyft Plans Friday Launch Against City Rules, TLC Says

By Paul DeBenedetto on July 8, 2014 6:22pm 

 Lyft cars, with their signature pink moustaches. The company will launch in New York at 7 p.m. on July 11, but the city says it will be breaking the law if it does.
Lyft cars, with their signature pink moustaches. The company will launch in New York at 7 p.m. on July 11, but the city says it will be breaking the law if it does.
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Lyft

NEW YORK CITY — Ride-sharing app Lyft will officially launch in Brooklyn and Queens on Friday but it will do so illegally, without a license or permission from the city, the head of the Taxi & Limousine Commission said Tuesday.

The Uber competitor announced in a blog post Tuesday afternoon that it would hit the streets Friday at 7 p.m., offering two weeks of free rides to all new users in the area and creating more trouble for city cab drivers amid news that competitor Uber slashed prices.

"This week, we take a historic step forward in bringing community-powered transportation to all corners of the country," the post said.

But the pink mustachioed car fleet will face serious trouble, according to a source within the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, because the company's business model relies on drivers without hack licenses.

Lyft never sat down with the TLC before Tuesday to discuss details of its plan, receive licensing or coordinate its announcement — and the city agency is ready to crack down on any illegal drivers, a source said. 

"We're still hopeful that Lyft will accept our offer to help them do the right thing for New York City passengers as they should, but New Yorkers can rest assured that the TLC will do its job and take the actions necessary to protect them," TLC Chair Meera Joshi said. 

When asked to elaborate, a source within the TLC said the agency was ready to penalize any Lyft drivers operating in the five boroughs.

"They are doing this without the benefit of any official licensing," the source said. "We will use our authority, and enforce the laws and the rules."

A Lyft spokeswoman did not immediately respond to the commissioner's statement.

Lyft's move comes on the heels of Uber's announcement that it was cutting prices on its UberX service to compete with the city's yellow cabs, making an UberX pickup less expensive than some yellow taxi rides, according to the company.

A spokeswoman from Lyft said Uber's decision did not influence the company's Friday launch date, pointing instead to an alleged surge of app downloads in the area and a Change.org petition with almost 3,000 signatures.

Lyft had recently begun attending community meetings across the city to drum up local support, including presentations at Bed-Stuy's Community Board 3 and at other meetings across Brooklyn and Queens, as DNAinfo New York first reported.

Friday's surprise launch would make New York the 65th city in the country in which the company operates, including two upstate New York outposts and a location in northern New Jersey.

While Lyft will cover the entirety of both Brooklyn and Queens, it listed Astoria, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick, Downtown Brooklyn and Park Slope as coverage "hot zones."

The service works through a downloadable smartphone app, where users can enter their information and search for a nearby ride from volunteer drivers who drive their own car, adorned with a pink mustache so users know theirs is a Lyft-sponsored vehicle.

Instead of fares, riders pay with "donations" to the drivers. Lyft takes 20 percent of that donation.

The prospect of Lyft operating in New York has irked some in the taxi industry, with the head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance calling the company's model "horrible."

Uber did not respond directly to questions about Lyft's announced launch.

Lyft touted its safety record in its announcement, and cited a lack of transportation options outside of Manhattan as the reason for starting in Brooklyn and Queens.

"The people of New York deserve more transportation options," the post read. "Lyft provides greater access to a safe, affordable personal transit alternative that is built for New Yorkers, by New Yorkers."

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