The Internet, social networking and smartphones have liberated and empowered individuals in countless ways. They've made life better. The latest example involves innovation that makes a form of hitchhiking respectable and relatively safe.
San Francisco-based Lyft Inc. has brought service to Colorado Springs, giving smartphone users the option of catching rides that cost only a suggested donation.
"We are reducing the need for people to own a car by providing affordable, reliable and convenient transportation," said Paige Thelen, a spokeswoman for Lyft.
A free smartphone application connects riders and drivers. Riders are able to find volunteer drivers, view their photos, their locations and estimated arrival times. When a rider selects a driver, the driver shows up with a personal vehicle that has a large pink moustache on the grill. The driver gets a tip, paid through the rider's account and Lyft takes a small percentage.
The service, and others like it throughout the country, is full of safety components that elevate the arrangement above the old system of standing on street, sticking out a thumb and hoping for the trust and kindness of a stranger. As explained in a story by Gazette reporter Wayne Heilman, drivers must use vehicles manufactured in 2000 or after. Cars must have four doors and room for four passengers. Drivers must complete a screening process that includes background and driving record checks, insurance verification and an inspection of the vehicle the driver uses for the service. The company provides additional liability and uninsured motorist coverage up to $1 million and offers additional collision coverage up to $50,000 that is added to collision coverage the driver already has.
The service, available in 60 other U.S. cities including Denver, is a godsend to people without cars or convenient mass transit options. It's also a blessing to all sorts of individuals looking for the additional income provided by tips. One new driver who spoke to The Gazette said she's a stay-at-home mom and military wife hoping to make up to $500 on weekends providing rides through Lyft.
Of course, all new systems facilitated by technology disrupt traditional businesses. Social network ride services threaten traditional cab companies, which want government protection. In Colorado, cab companies have persuaded legislators to introduce Senate Bill 125. As Heilman reports, the bill would require Lyft and similar services to buy permits from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and follow state rules on safety conditions, insurance requirements and driver qualifications. The bill has been approved by the state Senate and was sent Wednesday to the House of Representatives after clearing three committees.
The Legislature should be careful not to pass regulations that would regulate away services that stand to take cars off the road and create valuable consumer options. The industry clearly self-regulates. If cab companies find they cannot compete, they'll need to adapt to the desires of an innovative market that's making life better. They might reinvent the mustache and stick one on the front of each of their drivers' private cars.