Lyft is very bullish about carpooling. The company's co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green got their start almost a decade ago with a carpooling company called Zimride. Last week, Lyft launched a pilot program in the Bay Area to encourage average commuters to pick passengers up on their way to work. And today, the company announced it's expanding its main carpooling feature, Lyft Line, to six new cities.
Lyft Line, which matches drivers with one or more passengers for a less expensive fare, is currently available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, DC, Austin, Chicago, Atlanta, and Miami. Starting next week, the service is coming to Denver, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, and Newark. It's an unsurprising expansion, given that Lyft Line represents 40 percent of the rides the company does in the cities where it's currently available, Lyft says.
Is carpooling the next big thing?
Lyft launched its carpooling service in 2014, the same year its rival ride-hail company Uber unveiled its Pool feature. Both companies say that carpooling is the next big thing: fewer empty cars plus cheaper fares equals less traffic jams and happier communities. It also feeds the ride-hail industry's ethos that you never need to own a car, nor take public transportation, as long as you have a smartphone and can afford the fares. (The public transportation world, however, is starting to take notice of the ride-hail companies and the potential to better connect riders to mass transit hubs.) UberPool is available in 15 cities around the world, while Lyft Line is still just in the US.
In a statement, Green called Lyft Line "the heart" of his company's mission "to make our communities better by bringing positive change to transportation." But some drivers are skeptical about these rapidly expanding carpooling services and are worried about the effect on their ratings and ability to keep driving. Riders who find themselves being taken too far out of their way may retaliate by giving their driver a bad rating. And drivers who decline too many carpool requests could get deactivated.
That said, the ride-hail companies say that as more riders use carpooling, the data will improve, as well as the efficiency of the pick-ups and drop-offs. And even those critical of Uber and Lyft's labor practices seem to think carpooling could help rescue those companies' images. New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo recently posited that if UberPool (and assumedly Lyft Line) is successful, "the company could have a much bigger impact on urban mobility, labor, the environment, local economies and the national transportation infrastructure than we've all supposed — and its effects could confound the expectations of its harshest critics."