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Innovation & Startups

Lyft gets lift-off from PUC, but where will ride sharing take us?

After much battling, taxi service Lyft has received reprieve and will be temporarily allowed to operate in Pittsburgh, while competitor Uber is expected to receive results from its hearings with the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission this week.

Mayor Bill Peduto has spoken out in favor of the ride sharing services, and residents of Pittsburgh, who previously had difficulty finding cabs are in love with it. Patron Jess Netto used pink-mustachioed Lyft to pick her up from the bus station late at night, and was impressed with the driver's swift arrival and with her ability to see her ride approaching.

"Once you request a ride and a driver accepts, the app shows you a picture of your driver and a picture of the car they will be driving," Netto says.

She rode from Oakland to Lawrenceville and paid $10 plus tip.

"You can get anyone to say it's a simple process, but I don't think that's the unique part of it," Netto says. "I think that it's a very communal process. It allows you to get to know your neighbors, they are all about asking you to sit up front, its not about this service-client relationship," she adds.

The service is also donation based, with a suggested amount that may be raised or lower at customer's discretion.


Individuals using personal vehicles to tote passengers around is not a new thing. Jitney service still abounds, with ride share posters on craigslist claiming they will take passengers anywhere they need to go. However unlike Lyft drivers, who undergo strict background checks, you never know who you are going to get when you call a jitney. Similarly, jitney drivers take a risk with passengers, especially after ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber snatch up customers and use passenger rating systems to safeguard drivers. Jitney driving, which once was a possibly dangerous but thriving business may have arguably become more dangerous and less thriving.

However, in addition to providing a valuable service, Lyft and Uber provide valuable jobs. The companies work by allowing car owners with newer, four-door vehicles to sign up to be drivers. Drivers work on their own schedules and use the company's app to find and accept riders. However, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times, fighting for passengers has already started between the companies. Allegations of competing drivers creating false ride requests to divert each other abound. And local cab companies are none too happy about the appearance of ride sharing services, claiming it cuts in to their business. But Netto says her driver was a former cabbie and was happy to be working for the company.

"He told me it was nice to work for a place that cared as much about its passengers as its drivers," Netto says.

Right now, Lyft and Uber may be just what Pittsburgh needs.

"I remain thankful to Gov. Tom Corbett for standing with me and others in support of these innovative 21st Century businesses," Peduto said in a statement in support of the companies.

"We look forward to continuing to work with the PUC and state legislature on a permanent solution for community-powered transportation in Pennsylvania," said Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson, following news of her company's temporary license.

However, as we become increasingly dependent upon technology created in Silicon Valley to provide us daily services and act as a go-between for more and more of life's social and business interactions, we should think about the line between consumer and dependent and make sure to safeguard our autonomy. We should think not only about what these companies are providing to us, but about what we are providing to them, and set up agreements that will be beneficial to Pittsburgh's growth for years to come.
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