Ride-sharing service Lyft to launch in Miami

While Uber’s plans to offer its car service in Miami have hit nothing but roadblocks, San Francisco-based Lyft says it is launching its ride-sharing service Thursday evening.

With Lyft’s peer-to-peer app-based service, drivers use their own vehicles and drive a couple of hours a week when they have some free time. Users of the service get vetted drivers — all must pass DMV and background checks — whose personal policies have been supplemented by $1 million in liability insurance coverage, said Paige Thelen, Lyft’s spokesperson.

The service plans to launch at 7 p.m. Thursday and offer service in much of Miami-Dade County. Thelen would not say how many drivers in Miami it already has signed up, but she said it plans to add drivers as demand expands.

Users book via an app, then get a photo of the car and driver. Cars are also identified with a fluffy pink mustache in front.

The service operates on “donations” that are calculated by the app, with suggested rates about 20 percent to 30 percent cheaper than cab fares — $1.68 for a pickup fee, $1.92 per mile, and 28 cents per minute for wait time, Thelen said.

Riders can adjust the donation up or down, based on the level of service. Drivers keep 80 percent of the donation, while Lyft gets 20 percent, although during its inaugural promotion Lyft is not taking a commission, Thelen said.

Passengers in the Miami market will enjoy free rides for two weeks. When new users sign up and create a profile on their accounts, Lyft will credit their accounts with free rides for two weeks, up to $25 per ride, Thelen said.

Popular in other cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C., Lyft is already available in 60 markets including Jacksonville and Tampa. The company recently received $250 million in venture capital funding.

In Miami, such taxi alternatives have hit a rocky political road. Uber’s high-profile campaign to launch in Miami stalled after hitting numerous regulatory roadblocks at the county and state level and steadfast opposition from the taxi industry.

Under Miami-Dade Code, “anyone wishing to provide for-hire taxicab services must first obtain a for-hire taxicab license,’’ or medallion, for the cab itself. Medallions are allotted by lottery and require hundreds of dollars in annual fees.

For its part, Lyft says it is not Uber. “Lyft’s peer-to-peer model is very different than Uber’s black car service, which uses professional drivers,” Thelen said. “The peer-to-peer aspect of our business model does not violate the regulations that Uber was facing,” she said.

Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxicab Association, has a different view.

“They are Uber’s largest competitor. Their model is a little different, calling [the money paid] ‘tips.’ However, compensation is compensation. It’s illegal to transport the public without the proper certifications from Miami-Dade County. [The certifications] are there for a reason, to protect the public,” said Feliciano. “To be brazen enough to start a transportation service in Miami-Dade County without proper certifications, ... it’s like the wild wild west.”

To be sure, Lyft has faced legal challenges, even on its home turf. And Lyft drivers in Tampa reportedly have been receiving citations for lacking business certification and licensing.

“We stand behind our drivers. We cover the citations and any additional legal costs, and we have been working with officials there,” Thelen said.

The fact that Miami is both a growing urban center and an international destination attracted Lyft, said Thelen.

“From its vibrant arts community to its successful bike-sharing program, Miami is a great market for the Lyft community,” said Thelen. “And Lyft will offer another great transportation option for visitors who have decided not to rent a car during their visit.”

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