Tech: Lyft just gave its drivers a major advantage over Uber
Lyft drivers can now accept a ride in advance — a first in the ride-hailing industry.
Uber and Lyft drivers are often at the whims of the app that dictates what rides are coming in. The idea was to give drivers the ultimate in work flexibility — sign on to work when you want, and then wait for the ride requests to pour in.
But on Friday, Lyft introduced a new way for drivers to book rides in a change to how the nascent industry has worked.
Now when riders schedule rides in advance, drivers can choose to accept them days or hours beforehand, with full knowledge of where the passenger is going and how long it may take them.
"It gives the drivers control over their schedule and think about what they're going to do," said Tali Rapaport, Lyft's vice president of product. "We can now give certainty."
While flexibility has long been the battle cry in attracting drivers to join platforms like Uber and Lyft, locking drivers into rides in advance doesn't impinge on their freedom, Rapaport says. Instead, it gives them more of an advantage in choosing prebooked rides that work with their schedules.
The launch of scheduled rides for drivers is one of a series of changes for drivers the company is rolling out on Friday. Others are a new driver app and "power zones" that give drivers bonuses.
"Taking a step back, there isn't going to be one silver bullet to make the experience better for the driver," Rapaport said.
The war over drivers
In the ride-hailing battle between Lyft and Uber, Lyft is generally perceived as the more driver-friendly company. But Lyft had trailed Uber in one important area: offering drivers a dedicated app to help them get their jobs done.
"It was overdue a little bit," said Christian Perea, a ride-sharing expert who writes for The Rideshare Guy. "Lyft was trying to run two of the same things out of one app."
Lyft had held off on developing its driver app because it was easier to maintain one code base instead of splitting it, Rapaport said. Now that Lyft has grown and built out its driver team, the company decided to invest in the standalone app. The move benefits both passengers and drivers — the apps will take up less space on a phone because the features won't be sandwiched together.
"One of the things we want to continue to make better is the actual experience of driving," Rapaport said.
Business Insider first spotted the rollout of the app in early May, but the company is making the launch official on Friday as it transitions all drivers to it.
The app also includes scheduled pickups and the so-called power-zone feature, which gives drivers bonuses for accepting rides in a neighborhood like New York City's Financial District during the afternoon rush hour.
"It helps us get drivers on the road when passengers really need them," Rapaport said. "It kind of gives drivers control over what they're making."
While each change might seem minor, they're all part of the war among companies like Uber and Lyft over the limited supply of drivers. Each company tries to ply drivers with different incentives, and adding something like the ability for drivers to pre-accept rides gives Lyft an advantage.
"At the very minimum, it's going to have me going out earlier or maybe going home earlier," Perea said about choosing his rides in advance. "I suspect there will be more drivers looking for scheduled rides than riders will be requesting them."
Now that the company has its driver app, Perea also expects more features down the road. One thing Lyft drivers want is more transparency behind fares — a move Uber made earlier this week when it started itemizing receipts.
Lyft's focus on treating its drivers well and listening to their needs is one of the core ways it has invested in increasing its share of the complicated and competitive market.
"I think we have to keep investing in treating drivers better," Rapaport said. "We know drivers have a choice. We keep making the experience for driving for Lyft great."