Drivers Fuel Ridesharing Competition With Creativity

By Drew Rauso Capital News Service.

COLLEGE PARK, Md.

The giant stuffed pink moustache affixed to the front of Elizabeth Croydon's silver Mazda Tribute isn't just for decoration. It means she's a driver for Lyft, one of the half-dozen ridesharing companies competing for passengers in Washington, D.C.

"I needed a job that I could work in between the hours of my standup comic career and freelancing gigs, and with Lyft, my car is my office," said Croydon, who keeps water bottles, tissues and snacks for passengers in her car, and a pack of tarot cards she's used to give readings at the end of the trip.

Croydon, who works as a standup comic and writer and began driving for Lyft earlier this year, is one of a growing number of drivers for the smartphone-app driven companies that serve as an alternatives to taxis.

Washington has become a battleground for ridesharing services of late, with companies like Lyft, Hailo, Sidecar and myTaxi all working toward unseating Uber at the top of the ridesharing food chain.

In April, Lyft and its pink moustache-adorned battalion of cars announced it had raised $250 million in venture capital funding, putting their total venture capital investment at $332 million, according to Betabeat, slightly ahead of Uber's $307 million in venture capital.

Lyft also launched in 24 additional cities on April 24, bringing the total number of Lyft cities to 60. Uber is operating in 110 cities across the globe, but only 59 in the U.S.

In a city with so many riding options, Uber continues to be the most well-known in Washington, recently collaborating with Google Maps so that users can look up directions and hail an Uber without exiting the Google app.

To combat the competition, Lyft looks to its quirky, creative drivers to drive demand.

Sam Smith, a Washington driver, devised a way to make his car's pink moustache glow in the dark.

"I saw a driver in California added lights to his car's moustache, so I took that and ran with it, and luckily it's been a big hit," he said.

Some drivers have added flashing lights and disco balls to their cars, something Croydon is considering.

The creativity of Lyft employees is one reason Croydon enjoys working as a driver. "I just like working for a company that I can fist bump with, not shake hands," she said.

Brandon Lyons, a Lyft driver in Washington since August, hasn't decorated his car beyond the ubiquitous pink moustache. Instead, he offers passengers an experience unlike a traditional cab ride.

"I encourage all my passengers to sit in the front seat," Lyons said. "Why should car rides be awkward and silent?"

The competition between the ridesharing companies doesn't stop for passengers; attracting drivers is part of the battle as well.

In an attempt to add experienced drivers to their arsenal, Uber offered Lyft drivers $500 to complete 20 rides under the Uber name, hoping that they would permanently make the switch after their "trial run."

Lyft's strategy was to reward the drivers they already pay, sponsor local meetups for drivers and passengers and organizing a "Lyftsgiving" in November.

There are improvements Lyft could make, just like any other startup company, Croydon said. Increasing marketing share, especially in Washington where Uber reigns supreme, is something she hopes to see soon.

While there is always a need for drivers, suburban areas have proven difficult for Lyft to break into. "There's a need for drivers everywhere, but more people drive themselves in (the) suburbs," said Katie Dally, a spokesperson for Lyft.

Some drivers decide to spend time in the suburbs, but they miss out on more requests for rides in the city, Lyons said.

Although suburbs have yet to be truly cracked by the ridesharing industry, that could change in the future, as the D.C. Taxicab Commission is proposing a limit to the number of hours a non-taxicab-licensed driver can work.

Washington's license fees for taxicab drivers are the highest in the nation at $555, and ridesharing services don't require a taxi license to operate.

Wherever the destination, Croydon says, her desire to work for Lyft is based on one thing: "I enjoy helping people safely get from A to B, making friends in the process, and knowing that the party doesn't stop when people leave the bar!"

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