Lyft keeps their foot on the gas

When the news broke a couple weeks back that the California Public Utilities Commission had issued a cease-and-desist letter to shared-ride company Lyft, as well as two other San Francisco ride services, it didn’t take long for The Chronicle and other media outlets to jump on the company for being “illegal” or “unsafe.”

But ask John Zimmer, co-founder of both Lyft and long-distance carpool service Zimride, and you might not even know that such a letter existed.

In fact, the mind behind the company that sends those pink-mustachioed cars shuttling around The City says he is working with the CPUC to give them a better understanding of what Lyft is all about, all while continuing to work to improve the efficiency of a car service who’s popularity continues to grow:

“I think (Lyft) has created a lot of strong opinions. … But there are a lot of positive opinions, and the story that hasn’t been told; for these economic, environmental and community benefits that services like this bring about.”

Sitting in a small, glass-walled conference room at Lyft headquarters in the city’s South Beach district, Zimmer is still busily attending meetings and promoting his product with a smile on his face and a token Lyft fist-bump to offer.

Outside in the company’s work space, team members buzz about as they help in making Lyft more efficient and, well, more helpful to its riders.

Zimmer told SFBay:

“We designed a new product so that it would work for this innovative new industry. … It’s a great thing for our community.”

Lyft gained positive press from tech outlets and other local publications — SFBay being in that mix — when it launched its new phone application that would make it even easier for riders to locate a driver, and request a “lift” as it were.

To the chagrin of taxi companies and old-school-ists, the demand for a ride from the pink mustaches grew. Lyft’s Facebook page was suddenly putting up ads for new drivers, and the sky seemed the limit as to the company’s growth and prosperity.

Then the CPUC intervened, and Chronicle published the news as if the company was surely doomed.

Not long after news of the CPUC letter broke, some on-line publications gave the impression that Zimmer and the rest of the Lyft team were fighting against the cease-and-desist. But if talking to Zimmer told me anything, it was that the company is aiming to work with the CPUC to help them better understand what this shared-car service is all about:

“We clarified what we do. … We believe that the CPUC has an important job of consumer protection. That’s really important. And because we realize that what we’re doing doesn’t fall within the current regulations because this is a new innovation, we made sure that what we were doing goes beyond any consumer protection that other transportation providers are required to have at a city level.”

Going “above and beyond” involves doing DMV record and criminal background checks on prospective drivers, a practice Zimmer tells me is not universal among alternative ride services within The City. Not to mention that Lyft carries liability insurance up to $1 million per incident:

“We were very careful when we created Lyft, as well as when we created Zimride five years ago, to make sure that what we were doing was 100 percent within correct regulations.”

Being that the CPUC’s biggest concern is the safety of riders that use this service and that a hypothetical accident would be insured, Lyft’s efforts to work with them seems commendable.

Zimmer told SFBay that his faithful Lyft drivers offer passengers a strong sense of security:

“The customers who use this service to find other community members driving say that they feel really safe. There are multiple women that have come up to us and said ‘I really enjoy using your service because it is a safe way for me to get home, I feel comfortable using this service late at night.’ . . . It really can create a safe environment. I think that’s a big reason why one, we created the service and two, why people are using it.”

Lyft is still building and making tweaks to its brand, most recently implementing a wait list and cancellation fees to services to build efficiency. The goal isn’t just to build the company up, Zimmer says, but to also keep faithful Lyft riders happy and continuously relying on those pink mustaches to give them a ride:

“There’s been such high demand. There’s a real need for a service like this. Consumers want a service like this.”