Catching a Lyft from a pink moustache

It’s a tall, narrow warehouse space with cold stone floors, a kitchen nook and couple of couches that look like they might have been left there by accident during a move. It’s like most other warehouse-y spaces in SoMa, just a couple blocks up from the ballpark.

Not the type of place you might expect a pink-mustache-adorned car to drive in and pose for onlookers.

Such was the sight recently at the headquarters of Lyft, San Francisco’s newest shared ride service. The company — a city-based extension of nation-wide carpool empire Zimride — held a very intimate demo of its new cell phone app before its official launch last week.

Lyft executive assistant Nasim Assadi described the service at the event:

“It’s your friend, with a car, on-demand.”

In fact, the “on-demand” motto seems to be the theme of Lyft, with the phrase being used several times throughout the brief evening demo.

It isn’t the bright pink, furry mustaches attached to the front grilles of the Lyft’s cars, or the driver giving you a fist bump — yes, Lyft drivers fist-bump you when you get into their ride — but the new Lyft phone app that has the company so jazzed.

With the Lyft app now available on Android as well as iPhone, smartphone-equipped riders can pull up a map of The City, see where the mustachioed cars are, who the fist-bumping driver is, and have them pick you up in no time flat.

Seriously instant access to where your ride is, and who will be driving you. Despite being so very tech-based — requiring you to have full internet coverage on your cellular device — the phone app is what puts the icing on the cake.

Indeed, such technological advances have made companies such as Lyft a rolling threat to already-fragile city cab services. Part of Lyft’s marketing is that they claim to collect “voluntary donations” from their riders that are only about “80% of regular cab fare.”

Not to mention that such carpool and shared ride services such as Zimride don’t follow the same protocol that the city’s taxi companies do. City taxi drivers are required to take classes and become certified, while Lyft drivers have been hired from handyman-centered site TaskRabbit.com or, as Assadi described it, on a “more word-of-mouth” basis.

Taxicab drivers have to pass a taxi test administered by The City, while Lyft riders are only required a clean driving record and have no criminal background.

A starting point? Knowing the the cross streets of major city spots and — most paramount when navigating through San Francisco — knowing if certain main streets intersect or not. (San Francisco’s Cab College site even has a homework assignment available for those interested in what it takes to taxi San Franciscans around.)

“Lyft-ers” at the demo event, on the other hand, learn their way around The City by way of their job and their passengers’ destinations.

You can imagine that the taxicab community can’t be too happy when a mustachioed-car driven by someone’s “friend-of-a-friend” snags a potential client. Lyft community manager Emily Castor told SFBay:

“We’ve had run-ins with some cab drivers.”

Castor is quick to add the Lyft service is in fact more instant and reliable than hailing a cab in the busy neighborhood she works in. In fact, many of Lyft’s 33 employees use the service themselves.

Parent company Zimride itself has grown since its inception, which started as a car services at college campuses. The service has since grown to serve some 150 universities and companies.

The  long-distance carpool service — which includes routes from Washington D.C. to New York as well as S.F. down to Huntington Beach — that co-founder John Zimmer boasts has “saved users $100 million” is making a mark on transportation around the country:

“Zimride, (Co-founder) Logan (Green) and I started about five years ago with the goal of making transportation more affordable, more social, and more efficient.”