By Marcus Lavergne
Reno has welcomed another ride-sharing business to the area a year after the popular service Uber put its wheels down in the city. This time, drivers are rolling in with bright, hot-pink mustaches.
Lyft launched on Friday, Oct. 16. While sharing rides with potential strangers is increasing in popularity, the company does still offer private rides. It has built up a reputation for being more friendly and easygoing than other ridesharing competitors and insists that drivers greet riders with fist bumps and conversation.
Mary Caroline Pruitt, a representative for Lyft, says that a ride with the company’s drivers is not just fun, but safe as well. The company performs background checks and driver record checks before hiring.
“Our vision has always been to reconnect people and communities through better transportation,” Pruitt said. “We’ve already heard from many students across the country that ride-hailing allows them to live car-free and not have to worry about bringing a car to campus or being able to get a safe ride home after a night out.”
Essentially, businesses like Lyft and Uber have strived to make rides with complete strangers much more personable and comfortable. For Lyft, that experience begins before the ride through the app, where riders can see the name and profile picture of their driver. Once the ride is over, both the passenger and driver can rate the ride.
“We didn’t just set out to provide a better taxi or black car service,” Pruitt said. “Lyft drivers are students, teachers, entrepreneurs, stay-at-home moms and retirees. It’s real people driving real people.”
Pruitt noted that Lyft is an ideal part-time opportunity for people looking to make extra income in their spare time. Drivers aren’t professionals and around 80% of them drive 15 hours or less a week.
For Irvin Cutler, a 62-year-old Lyft driver, it wasn’t really about the money, but instead, a break from the norm. Cutler discussed how he started driving for a change of pace as Pink Floyd blared over the radio.
Because drivers use their own vehicles, the appearance and functionality of the ride is important. Cutler says that because he’s retired he has plenty of time for maintenance. Although he owns dogs, which he calls his “German Shedders,” he knows that keeping the car clean is vital to being a successful Lyft driver.
“When Lyft came along I thought maybe I can get some grocery money or something,” Cutler said. “I don’t know, just wanted a little extra money or something. I enjoy meeting people.”
Cutler was a cab driver in Reno years ago. He would frequently get ripped off by passengers who did not have enough money for their trips.
“I got robbed twice,” Cutler said. “There were ‘runouts.’ I know you won’t get that with this cause there’s no cash. With this you’re just gonna get a much nicer clientele.”
Cutler didn’t drive during this past weekend’s Zombie Crawl in downtown Reno, a popular event among students at the University of Nevada, Reno, but knows that his service is important in times where alcohol may be involved. Cutler has kids who have graduated and started their lives, but he says that he can’t emphasize enough how dangerous drunk driving is.
Cutler experienced a tragedy years ago that still sits in his mind today. He remembers the exact date as well — June 17, 1970. Cutler was out driving when a car pulled into his lane. He rolled his car, killing his best friend.
“I haven’t had a drink since,” Cutler said. “When I see a person drunk driving, I call the police. I take that real personally. I’d rather give a ride for free, you know, like I said it really isn’t about the money.”
For drivers like Cutler, a bonus is meeting new people. When he drove cabs, that was one of the things he enjoyed most although the job was fraught with danger at times.
Lyft has made a big move in terms of expanding its customer demographic. This weekend the business partnered with McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which assists more than 50 million travelers a year.
In Reno, Lyft’s big, pink mustache may be closer than ever to becoming an everyday sight in the near future.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @mlavergne21.