Lyft launched a new developer program today that will allow people to arrange rides for someone who doesn’t have a Lyft account or even a smartphone. The new service, in which a developer can facilitate a Lyft ride for any passenger and handle billing, notifications, and the overall passenger experience themselves, is part of Lyft’s open application program interface (API) which launched last year.
Lyft’s Dispatch Developer Program is being billed as ideal for software developers who want to let people arrange rides for elderly family members, or for event planners who may want to provide courtesy car service for participants. One example provided by Lyft was car dealerships that may want to provide free rides for customers while their vehicles are in service, or health care providers that want to arrange transportation for those who can’t drive themselves.
Lyft launched its open API program last year for any developer who wanted to integrate the ride-hail service into their app. The program meant users could summon a Lyft car with just the tap of a button from Google Maps, Facebook Messenger, or any number of other apps. Lyft has also integrated with Slack, Starbucks, Shell, and Google's Waze. Uber has had a similar open API program since 2015.
API integration, also known as "deep linking," is actually a clever bit of marketing. Lyft and Uber get to place their branded service within a third-party apps' ecosystem, often for chump change, and advertise it as a better user experience. (US-based app developers can sign up to be Uber "affiliates," where they can earn $5 for every new rider they refer to Uber through the button integration.) On the flip side, Uber and Lyft get free in-app advertising. Not a bad trade-off.