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Revving up: Ridesharing service Lyft is growing its N.J. presence even as it battles for business with the likes of Uber

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Ann Ferracane, general manager, Lyft New Jersey.
Ann Ferracane, general manager, Lyft New Jersey. - ()

Ann Ferracane said she bets big on the state of New Jersey when it comes to the success of the fastest-growing rideshare company nationwide.

“In New Jersey, Lyft has seen nearly 170 percent year-over-year growth in active passengers,” she said. “And year over year, we’ve grown our active driver base by about 300 percent.”

The 5-year old, app- and San Francisco-based company, Ferracane said, also has had a surprising effect on the Garden State since its beginnings here in 2014:

Assisted growth of entrepreneurship.

“Nearly 75 percent of our drivers in New Jersey use Lyft to support a business,” Ferracane, general manager of Lyft New Jersey in Jersey City, said. 

With over 90 percent of the company’s drivers earning five-star ratings, according to the company, Ferracane expects that growth in the state to continue.

“You are getting a ride from a neighbor, in some capacity, and we want to remain focused on community while improving our in-car experiences, availability, reliability and affordability,” she said.

Drivers, the company states, are paid for every trip on a per-minute and -mile basis, with some making more than $800 a week driving on Friday nights and weekends.

“I have loved learning that, for example, just 57 percent of our drivers’ earnings go toward paying general expenses,” Ferracane said. “Most of our drivers are part time, similar to our national average, with 80 percent driving 20 hours or less for supplemental income.”

Additionally, she said, drivers have been paid out more than $200 million in in-app tips and more than $68 million in driver bonuses, such as for recommending their friends as drivers, since Lyft was created in 2012.

It was only this year, however, that Lyft was officially made “legal” in New Jersey.

“Gov. (Chris) Christie signed into law that ridesharing companies must require driver background checks and insurance,” she said. “The biggest change we’ve seen since is that, in areas where ridesharing was not as popular or familiar, drivers may have gotten ticketed by local authorities.

“Now, as long as our drivers comply and have the right (signs), that can’t happen.”

Employees, Ferracane said, also have been increasingly using Lyft for commuting purposes.

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Ann Ferracane, general manager of Lyft New Jersey, said Lyft prides itself first and foremost on being a fast, convenient, affordable and reliable mode of transportation.

However, in order to remain competitive, the company has expanded into several new areas and products that riders can use.

There’s Lyft Plus, for rides with up to six passengers; Lyft Premiere, in which the company partnered with Jaguar Land Rover to offer more luxurious vehicles; and Lyft Events, which makes it easy for galas, weddings and more to provide their guests with Lyft ride credit and coupon codes.

Lastly, both Lyft Shuttle — which allows riders to pay a fixed rate along predetermined routes during commute hours with various pickup and drop off locations — and Lyft Line, the company’s carpooling service, offer cheaper alternatives for passengers.

“We try to educate our passengers in denser communities on the various ride options they have in order to book cheaper rides,” Ferracane said. “It also ends up creating more ridership as people become more comfortable with such options.”

Nearly 40 percent of all rides in select markets, for example, are booked through Lyft Line, Ferracane said.

“About 20 percent of our rides start within half a mile of a transit station within New Jersey; 55 percent of our passengers indicate that they use it for commuting; and 41 percent of our passengers indicate that they use it when there isn’t public transportation available,” she said.

The result? New Jersey residents have saved more than 1 million hours in travel time using Lyft since 2014 compared with other modes of transportation, Ferracane said.

Of course, Lyft is not without competition.

Uber — even after founder Travis Kalanick resigned last week as CEO amid scandals regarding the company’s alleged sexist work environment and harassment allegations — is valued at $60 billion.

Lyft is much smaller, at $7 billion.

However, after the #DeleteUber social media campaign emerged encouraging users to drop the company, Lyft has been making significant gains.

It all began in January, when it appeared that Uber was continuing to offer ridesharing services at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York during a taxi strike in response to President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban from seven majority Muslim countries.

Not only did Lyft see a sustained bump in ridership afterward — taking 4 percent of the market share it did not previously have — but Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green went a step further, publicly denouncing the ban and donating $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We’ve always been focused on differentiation,” Ferracane said. “Uber is our primary competitor, of course, but it’s always been in our interest to be understood and perceived as the ‘friendly’ brand.

“Our focus is simply, how can we make both drivers and passengers understand that we care?”

By carefully listening to its customers concerns both in and out of the cars, Ferracane said.

This month, for example, Lyft formally joined a coalition of more than 900 businesses in nine states and 125 cities agreeing to uphold the Paris Agreement, with Lyft announcing it would strive to cut CO2 emissions from the U.S. transportation sector by at least 5 million tons per year by 2025.

It would do this, the company stated, by partnering with Waymo — part of Google’s parent company, Alphabet — and General Motors to provide at least 1 billion rides annually via a fleet of 100-percent electric, autonomous vehicles.

That pilot program will launch in Boston later this year.

Additionally, in May, Lyft created the Round Up and Donate program, in which passengers could choose to round up their fare to the nearest dollar and donate the difference to a partnered charity, such as the United Service Organizations.

These are just a few of the reasons that various surveys have showed that drivers may prefer working for Lyft to Uber, Ferracane said.

“We feel at Lyft that the future of transportation also involves having a really delightful experience that connects people to their community,” she said.

Lyft drivers are therefore encouraged by the company to make the experience their own by personalizing their cars, decorating with the logo of their favorite sports teams, for example, or even having Harry Potter-themed rides.

“We have driver events every month or two so that drivers can show how they’ve differentiated themselves,” Ferracane said.

It is the main mission of the company at large, she added, with one goal in mind.

“We want Lyft to be the primary name in every household for transportation,” Ferracane said.

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