Lyft will once again allow passengers to share their rides with strangers starting next week after suspending the service over a year ago in response to the pandemic, the company announced today. Shared rides will be available in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Denver starting on Monday, July 19th, followed by additional markets “in the coming months.” It’s good news for anyone who wants a cheaper or more environmentally friendly way of making a journey in a private hire car.
Although shared rides are returning, they’re doing so with some social distancing restrictions. Drivers and passengers will still be required to wear masks at all times, and eating or drinking is banned during journeys. Shared rides will also be limited to two riders who’ll have to keep the front and middle seats empty to maintain distance. Drivers and passengers have the option of canceling journeys without any penalty if fellow riders aren’t obeying the rules.
Lyft is also tweaking how shared rides work in an attempt to make them more predictable. Passengers will now have the option of booking a shared ride up to half an hour in advance, which Lyft says will help it “better match riders going in the same direction for the most efficient route.” Routes, pickups, and pricing will be fixed ahead of time, and the further in advance a journey is booked, the more discounted it’ll be, Lyft says.
Although it’s unclear how many passengers will be comfortable sharing rides with strangers, even with Lyft’s safety measures in place, carpooling is seen as an important means of reducing the environmental impact of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. One study last year, released before the pandemic took hold in the US, said that services like these generate around 69 percent more climate pollution than the modes of transport they replace, and it recommended electric cars and carpooling as a means of mitigating this. Although Lyft dismissed the report as “misleading,” it said that it “encourages the use of shared rides.”
Uber and Lyft suspended their carpooling services in response to the pandemic in March. But while Lyft is moving to reintroduce ride-sharing, the future of UberPool is less certain. Business Insider recently reported that it may return in an “unrecognizable” format in an attempt to make it more profitable. Discounts for using a shared ride could be reduced from 50 to 20 percent, and the service may only be available in certain locations or at select times of day. However, at least one market in Australia has seen the return of UberPool, suggesting it won’t disappear entirely.