Lyft launches program to drive for charity

Ridesharing service Lyft announced Thursday a new charity service to deliver supplies to the needy and offer free rides to the elderly or sick.

Through Lyft for Good, a nationwide program, drivers employed by Lyft will use their cars to support charitable organizations in the communities where they drive. Next week in San Francisco, driver volunteers will help Meals on Wheels deliver disaster preparedness kits to low-income seniors.

Lyft drivers have organized for charitable causes long before Lyft for Good became a formal program. Drivers in Nashville last winter distributed backpacks with blankets, food, water and toiletries to kids around the city. And in San Francisco, drivers already partner with the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly organization to give seniors rides to medical appointments.

Many of the riders Lyft for Good plans to serve would otherwise likely not use the San Francisco-based ridesharing service, which connects community drivers and their personal cars with riders through a smartphone app. The app is connected to the rider’s credit card, so payment is automatic, and fares are often cheaper than traditional city taxis.

Lyft and competing ridesharing service Sidecar, also based in San Francisco, recently received permits from the California Public Utilities Commission to legally operate their companies. The ridesharing services had been operating without regulatory oversight and in conflict with transportation regulations until September, when the PUC approved rules to license mobile app-based ride services through a new transportation permit called the Transportation Network Company.

Since the PUC vote, Lyft and its ridesharing counterparts, Sidecar and Uber, have grown exponentially. Lyft is now in 32 cities and is plotting an international expansion. And investors have noticed — Lyft received a $250 million investment in the first quarter this year, the second-largest investment in a venture-backed company in the country, according to a report released Wednesday by Dow Jones.

Still, the company faces an uphill battle against regulators in other states. The Seattle City Council last month passed rules to limit ridesharing, and Illinois lawmakers also passed stiff regulations that would hinder the companies, as regulators remain concerned about public safety and insurance compliance. Lyft recently hired two Washington lobbying firms to fight regulations.

 Image courtesy Lyft

Heather Somerville Heather Somerville (236 Posts)

Heather Somerville is a business reporter covering venture capital and startups for the Bay Area News Group.