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Lyft wants to make ‘casual carpooling' a thing again

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Do you remember 'slugging'?

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Ride-hailing service Lyft is launching a new carpooling service in the Bay Area today that it insists is entirely different from all the other carpooling services out there, including its own Lyft Line. Lyft Carpool will "tap into a completely different population of drivers" by making the act of picking up a complete stranger on the way to work, and getting paid to do it, easier than it's ever been, the company says.

Drivers who want to participate have to share details about their daily commute with Lyft. Then, before they're ready to leave for work, they will receive a push notification asking if they would like to pick up a potential passenger along the way. If they agree, they can then use the High Occupancy Vehicle lane along Highway 101 in California, and earn up to $10 for the trip, while the passenger will pay $4-$10 for the ride. Based on the route information, Lyft Carpool will never send drivers "more than a few minutes out of their way" to pick up riders, said Lev Popov, product manager at the company. The service will be available first in the Bay Area, but Lyft plans on rolling it out to other markets soon after.

"they won't be able to profit from their participation."

On the surface, Lyft Carpool sounds indistinguishable from Lyft's preexisting carpooling feature, Lyft Line, or Uber's many offerings, such as Uber PoolUber CommuteUber Destinations, and Uber Hop. But Emily Castor, director of transportation policy at Lyft, insists that it's entirely new. "With traditional Lyft, as well as Lyft Line, the driver is someone who is coming to the Lyft platform in search of a form of income," she said. "And they're able to be at your disposal, waiting for ride requests to take you anywhere you need to go —€” whether it's a Lyft with one passenger, or Lyft Line with multiple passengers, the driver doesn't have a destination of their own in mind."

Lyft envisions its carpool drivers to be average Joes going to work who don't mind giving a lift (as it were) to someone heading in the same direction. Drivers won't earn more than $10 per ride, nor will riders pay more than the same amount. "Drivers on Lyft Carpool would only be able to recover the cost of operating their vehicle," Castor said. "The mileage reimbursement rate is mandated by the IRS at 54 cents a mile. They will be able to earn up to $10, but they won't be able to profit from their participation."

In other words, Lyft Carpool is about appealing to someone's sense of environmental ethics by reducing the number of cars on the road, rather than their sense of profit. It's also an attempt to revitalize the practice of "casual carpooling," aka "slugging," which first caught on in the US in the 1970s, Castor said. Lyft Carpool drivers will need to be licensed drivers who are at least 18 years old, but will not have to acquire commercial driver's licenses to accept fares.

"an attempt to revitalize the practice of casual carpooling"

"Our goal is to come up with a process that would make it possible for these everyday commuters to get rides with a higher level of security than casual carpooling, where people line up along the road, or even the 511 RideMatch Database, where people enter their personal contact information in a database," she said. The free service, in which people get matched up for carpool rides, is run by the city of San Francisco's Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which is partnering with Lyft on its carpooling service.

Lyft Carpool is the latest initiative by a ride-hail company to facilitate strangers sharing rides in order to reduce traffic congestion by better utilizing empty seats in cars — or as Uber often says about its own carpool service, "getting more butts into fewer cars." Census data suggests that 76 percent of Americans still drive to work alone. And a study from 2015 concluded that "increases in transportation efficiency could save the estimated $533 billion needed to expand roads to relieve severe congestion in US cities."

Lyft's idea to "activate" non-professional drivers for Carpool could help address the skepticism surrounding other carpooling services, like Lyft Line and Uber Pool. Some drivers insist pool rides aren't worth it for them financially: if a rider selects a pooled ride but the driver can't find another passenger, the original rider still pays the discounted fare, meaning less money in the drivers' pocket.