Business Cover

Lyft On Its Way to Lafayette Uber will get direct app-driven car-sharing competition as soon as April.

by Mike Stagg

The dominant app-powered ride sharing company Uber will soon have direct competition in Lafayette.

Lyft notified potential drivers in its system on March 2 that it intends to enter the Lafayette market. Based on the company’s aggressive rollout into new cities thus far this year, Lyft’s Lafayette launch appears set for April. Lyft currently offers service in New Orleans and entered the Baton Rouge market in February as part of a 40-city expansion announced in January.

Lafayette does not appear on the 50-city expansion list announced in February, but the driver notification puts the company on a path for an April rollout here.

Mary Caroline Pruitt of Lyft was coy about the firm’s intentions. “We’ve been exploring driver interest in the area, but have no plans to share at this time,” Pruitt tells ABiz in an early March email. “We look forward to continuing our rapid growth across the country, and are optimistic that we’ll be able to bring Lyft to Lafayette soon.”

Lyft has made no secret of the fact that it is moving to capitalize on a series of gaffs and missteps that have plagued market leader Uber over the first two months of 2017.

Both companies are headquartered in San Francisco.

The first hint of trouble for Uber came when CEO Travis Kalanick accepted a position on President Donald Trump’s economic advisory panel. It sparked a #DeleteUber movement that has grown with subsequent missteps. The movement picked up steam after New York Uber drivers continued to do business at JFK Airport after the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called a strike to protest President Trump’s first travel ban targeting travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Also in January, Uber agreed to pay $20 million to the Federal Trade Commission to settle claims that the company had made misleading representations about potential earnings to drivers it was recruiting in major U.S. cities. The FTC found that Uber exaggerated potential earnings by between 25 percent to 33 percent.

Uber users are now paying for that fine through a recently imposed 35 percent increase in Uber’s booking fee, which is part of the company’s share of every ride. “Booking fees help support safety, regulatory and operational costs,” Uber told its drivers. The company also said that the hike in the booking fee would not change pay for drivers, but it does reduce the percentage of fares drivers receive on each ride.

The Delete Uber intensified further in February after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler blogged about her “one very, very strange year” at the company where she encountered systemic sexism.

Uber went into full defensive mode, going so far as to hire former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate its work culture and pleading with riders via email to stick with the company, according to the technology website Mashable.

But, the self-inflicted hits just kept on coming.

On March 1, CEO Kalanick issued a public apology for a heated argument (captured on video) he got into with an Uber driver in which the driver complained about the company’s history of lowering earnings for drivers. Kalanick told the driver he should “take responsibility” for his own problems and cursed him at the end of the ride.

Kalanick’s apology said he would seek help, but did not specified what type of help.

Then, on March 3, the New York Times reported on Greyball, a software program used by Uber to deceive authorities around the world where the company’s low-cost service — Uber X — was encountering opposition from taxi firms and local governments.

According to the Times article, the program “uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials who were trying to clamp down on the ride-hailing service.” The program involved examining use patterns to identify people the company believed worked for local governments.

The company then installed code on the users’ apps that identified them as government workers and, in effect, disabled the software from operating correctly. In other words, tagged users would not get rides.

The Grayball app was also used to identify Lyft and taxi drivers who attempted to use the Uber app to competitive advantage.

For riders, Uber and Lyft costs are roughly the same, although Lyft’s entry into the Lafayette market might produce some relief during high surge periods — think Saturday nights, Mardi Gras or Festival International.

Lyft’s arrival should be good news for consumers, but more bad news for Lafayette’s already beleaguered taxi services. Interestingly, studies have shown that the presence of Uber and Lyft in markets also depresses the car rental business.

A freelance journalist living in Lafayette, Mike Stagg hosts “Where The Alligators Roam,” a talk show that streams live on Sundays at 5 p.m. on Acadiana Open Channel's Cypress Street Radio with podcasts available on Mondays. He’s also an Uber driver, documentarian and researcher currently working on a book about the oil and gas industry’s relationship with Louisiana government.