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Lack of Drivers Snags Lyft's NYC Launch

 Uber competitor Lyft had a rocky start in its first weekend, as the number of drivers failed to meet the demand of riders.
Uber competitor Lyft had a rocky start in its first weekend, as the number of drivers failed to meet the demand of riders.
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NEW YORK CITY — A lack of drivers left the long-awaited launch of ride-sharing app Lyft chaotic and expensive this weekend.

After weeks of court dates and negotiations with the city that resulted in a overhaul of its business model, the company got off to a rough start Friday when its lack of drivers led to frustrated would-be customers and higher prices across the city.

From the company's New York City launch on Friday at 7 p.m. through Sunday night, an analysis by DNAinfo New York reporters spotted no more than two cars on the road at a time in the five boroughs — and most times, no car could be found at all.

One DNAinfo New York reporter who signed up for the app's "Pioneer Program" of up to 50 free rides for 15 days tried to hail a driver on three separate occasions throughout the evening on Saturday and again on Sunday, to no avail.

Because the lack of drivers didn't meet the passenger demand, all rides throughout the weekend tacked on "Prime Time" pricing, which added an additional 25-to-75 percent to each ride.

A spokeswoman for the company said on Monday that the initial launch was a test period.

"Lyft launched in New York City on Friday evening to overwhelming demand from thousands of residents across all five boroughs," the spokeswoman said.

"We are currently in a limited beta period and working hard to grow our community of drivers as quickly as possible."

Specific numbers of rides requested and drivers on the road were not immediately available, she said.

Lyft, which announced its launch earlier this month, works in most cities on a model in which "volunteer" drivers accept "donations" from passengers rather than fares. 

But the city and state rejected that plan, threatening the company with a restraining order if it didn't comply with existing taxi regulations involving safety and insurance.

After two weeks of court appearances, Lyft agreed on Friday to a model similar to Uber's in New York City, in which only drivers licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission would be able to participate, among other rules.

In other nearby locations where Lyft is using its traditional model, it was business as usual. Across the Hudson River, Lyft's northern New Jersey service showed an abundance of cars, as did its service in Buffalo and Rochester, two cities in which the company has agreed to halt operations by July 1.

The lack of service in the five boroughs led to frustration from social media users.

The company continued to have the same issues Monday, as New York Magazine reported.

The spokeswoman on Monday said the company was working to better meet demand.

"As we continue to grow Lyft’s community in New York City in the coming weeks, we look forward to adding more drivers and giving all New Yorkers access to safe, friendly and reliable rides," she said.

Additional reporting by Serena Dai.