I Got “Lyft”-ed! An objective review of Chicago’s newest rideshare service

Sharon Schneider

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If you are like me, Lyft has been showing up in your Facebook news feed as a sponsored story about every five minutes for the last month. I had heard of Lyft, a peer-to-peer “rides on demand” service that competes with taxis and with Uber, but had never used it before my trip to the West Coast last week.

So how does Lyft work? First, you download the app to your smartphone and create an account, adding your credit card and linking to a public profile like Facebook or LinkedIn.

When you need a ride, open the Lyft app on your phone and it shows a map with your location marked by a little balloon. (Pro-tip that is not at all obvious at first: if the balloon isn’t in quite the right spot, hit the target/bullseye icon in the bottom right corner of the map and it will move to where you currently are.)

If there is an available Lyft driver, it will show you how far away they are. 5 minutes is pretty typical. Need a ride? Tap the button: “Request a Lyft.” It will ask you to confirm, and then sends your request to any available drivers in the area. One will respond and agree to be your Lyft driver.

Now it gets pretty cool. The app shows you a picture of your driver, and of the car that you’ll be looking for. It also shows a little car icon on the map, which moves as the driver gets closer. Within a few minutes, your driver pulls up with a big pink mustache on his car, so he is super easy to spot (all my Lyft drivers were male). If you don’t happen to see each other right away, they can send a text to your phone saying “Your Lyft is here to pick you up!”

When you get in the car, the real fun begins. You sit in the front seat next to your driver, who will often greet you with a fist bump, and the two of you start chatting. Your Lyft driver is likely to be an interesting person to get to know, because interesting people are drawn to become Lyft drivers. I met a musician, a digital media specialist, a health and wellness coach who used to be in the Peace Corps and a former journalist.

And that’s the cool part of Lyft. It’s the sense that you’re in this self-selected community together. You’re both part of a fun thing. One of my drivers and I started talking about how our generation is just beginning to figure out how to use technology in ways that actually make our lives better, rather than just busier—filled with meaning, instead of just filled. Another driver told me he was driving, in part, to network--he had just started his own company and a lot of tech industry types used Lyft. Most are using Lyft to supplement their income, although one driver was on a sabbatical, having burned out at his last job. We talked about the legal battles facing Lyft and Airbandb in cities across the country, and pondered the ethics of potentially displacing licensed, unionized, often minority and immigrant cab drivers with college-educated white kids with too much time on their hands. I had interesting and sometimes deep conversations with all 5, sprung from an instant camaraderie that forms the moment you open the door to the car with the pink mustache.

Before too long, the ride ends, and so does your conversation. Your driver indicates as much on his phone, and a “suggested donation” pops up on your phone. You can adjust it up or down based on service and rate your driver (I adjusted upward and gave all 5-star ratings).  I found Lyft “suggested donations” to be 25% less than comparable cab fares. Lyft emails you a receipt for the amount, which is charged to your credit card on file.

And then you walk into your destination, with a big smile on your face, feeling like you just made a new friend.

Full disclosure: I’ve never used Uber (which feels to me like it’s more for the Kanye West/Kim Kardashian set, where Lyft is for regular people like me), so I’d be interested in your thoughts about how the two services are alike or different.

As Lyft works to build its driver corps here in Chicago (which is critical to having a good passenger experience), I suspect that being a Lyft driver is a great way for entrepreneurs to extend their runway while building their startup: drivers earn about $20 an hour, and get the opportunity to network with others in the tech community. So what are you waiting for? I bet you'd look good in pink.

Disclosure: I don’t know anyone at Lyft and haven’t spoken to anyone there. This is a totally independent review of my experiences with Lyft in Seattle and San Francisco, which are well-developed markets for Lyft. Chicago is not well-developed.

Edited 2.28.14: Want to try Lyft? Use my referral link and get $25 off your first ride: www.lyft.com/invited/sharon276



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Veli Seremet
Lyft is faster and cheaper than a cab in Washington DC and Maryland. Try it for free today. Use FREE35CREDIT, 1PASSENGER or 1STPASSENGER to get $20 off your first Lyft ride. https://www.lyft.com/invited/1STPASSENGER
Susan Darlene
The Lyft self-selected community is a very ingenious solution, will this program be available in more US cities? Does the drivers have to have certain paperwork filled or have a special type of insurance like Risk Point? Being a Lyft driver can be also very profitable, a $20 an hour pay is great plus you have the chance to meet a lot of people with whom you can become friends.
Imani Brown
Use promo code MSU2U to receive a $25 free credit towards a Lyft.
Jason Gibson
Use code JASON7768 for a free ride. Code never expires. Or thinking about driving for LYFT? Use this unique web link so i can get credit for referring you http://lft.to/1o9WCka
Farok Atik
amazing highly recommended
Farok Atik
I Took a ride. Now I drive. Love it. My riders love the app too Lyft is awesome very cheap rate and WAY better than cabs . Drivers are always close, super friendly, and really prompt. Service is affordable, as well. Couldn't be happier with Lyft, and they really fun . HERE IS A $25 CREDIT CODE : TARIK30 Enter this code TARIK30 In the payment section before you request your FIRST ride and. you will receive a $25 credit towards that ride .. The credit is valid on first ride so use it for a long ride to get the best value. Great community. Never take a taxi again... so its time to enjoy the rides with amazing lyft ALSO IF YOU WANNA BECOME A DRIVER FOR LYFT AND START MAKING UP TO $25/hour you can APPLY HERE : http://get.lyft.com/drive/?ref=TARIK30
Jesus Ochoa
it's a great service, and the drivers are usually pretty happy. there's a new promo that just started 1/23/14 that gives first time users a $25 credit when they download the LYFT app and enter code 6BRDB5, (this has to be done before you request your first LYFT) good luck
Mark Danville
I applied to be a Lyft driver and per the background check (my drivers license and SSN) which is a good thing, they denied me because of my credit report, which is a bad thing. I am a former teacher and former Army officer. I had the trust of parents and the trust of the nation but I find it hard to rent an apartment or make a living because I have fallen on hard times and exhausted my unemployment. Thank you America. Text of their email to me follows: u successfully challenging the accuracy of this information, we have decided to deny your application to become a Lyft driver. Sterling Infosystems has not made this decision and is not able to explain why the decision was made. We are enclosing a copy of the report at the following link(s):********************************
Matt Strader
Download the app Lyft on your iPhone or Android and use the promo code “THEROW2″ for a free $20 ride wherever you want to go! The promo code is only valid for LA users.
Lyft Driver
I am a Lyft driver and in regards to the last comment, yes,mpassengers do have the option to make a donation, however if they do not, it will be difficult to catch a Lyft next time. The service is wonderful in my eyes.i have had such a pleasant experience and positive feedback. If you are hesitant to try it, here's $10 on us! Download the Lyft app and enter code 37PZ7Z before your first ride. Be sure o rate your driver and submit feedback because passenger experience is important and we'd love to hear what you have to say!
Dramyon A Novellas
Lyft passengers don't pay.
Brian Maggi
I'm not going to lose a wink of sleep over displacing cab drivers. I've had plenty of reasonable ones but it's generally an unpleasant experience taking a cab.
Sarah Argue
I've been tempted to try this! How does it compare in price to UberX?
Kenneth Dewey
from what I am told is UberX is cheaper. But I have also heard that many of the riders like lyft because of the mustache. It is easier for them to spot than trying to find the car without one. Give them both a try.
Sharon Schneider
Hey, Sarah, I'd love to know as well. I have never used UberX. Anyone else?
Jeff Carter
I have used UberX. Don't like it compared to Uber Taxi and Uber, which I really like. Have not tried Lyft or Hailo. I like competition. Chicago needs to keep this deregulated, and ought to allow AirBnb, couchsurfing, food trucks, Kitchensurfing and other companies like this compete. It raises the level of service for everyone.
J. A.  Ginsburg
Sounds pretty interesting, but how does Lyft handle liablity? Will drivers show proof of insurance to customers, or do you simply trust that Lyft has taken care of this?
Sharon Schneider
Hey Janet, I trusted the Lyft background check, but this particular question didn't even occur to me. I am sure you could google more about their driver background checks (for safety) or tweet them at @Lyft They seem pretty responsive.
Stella Fayman
Lyft does both a background check on the driver and the car. Then, if a driver gets bad reviews by Lyfters, they could get kicked off as well.
Dramyon A Novellas
Too bad they don't review riders. I've been stiffed on every one of the rides I've given. The "suggested donation" terminology for passenger payment gives them an impression that payment is not needed. Who would pay if not mandatory?
Kenneth Dewey
You must not drive for lyft anymore, because this simply isn't true. I have not had a single person not pay for a ride and many have given more. I did have one rider confused about the way to pay and gave me less than she should have. When she figured it out she emailed lyft and increased what I should get. I only know this because I gave her another lyft the same evening. as a driver for lyft you also rate the passengers. If either the passenger or the driver give a rating of 3 stars or lower you won't be paired together ever again. Same with pay, a driver can set what they will accept for a lower percentage. As I understand it, if you set your your percentage at say 70% you will not get paired with any riders that have averaged below that. So as you are saying that no one has given you anything, it means either you are not cut out to be a lyft driver or the ones not giving anything are not finding any rides.

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