You may be seeing more cars with those fuzzy pink mustaches attached to their grilles in the coming weeks. The app-based ride sharing service Lyft has expanded its coverage area in Charlotte to include most of the metro area, including Charlotte-Douglas airport. WFAE’s Duncan McFadyen reports it’s the first major ride-sharing service to start picking up passengers at the airport.
Lyft is a San Francisco company that expanded to Charlotte last summer. The service connects drivers who use their personal cars with passengers looking for a ride. The Lyft app lets passengers select a “donation” amount for the driver, but it doesn’t technically require payment. Ken Thompson has been driving part-time for Lyft for about a month. He works a full-time desk job and says he enjoys the social aspect of giving people rides.
“The interaction is more like my best friend calling and saying, hey Ken I need to go to the store, can you come by and pick me up?" he says. "That’s how I feel when my people get in the car with me.”
Until last week, Lyft limited its drivers’ routes to the central part of town. Now, the company has extended service beyond I-485 to areas that include Pineville, Mount Holly and Harrisburg.
That, of course, includes the Charlotte airport, where the taxi and car-for-hire business is tightly regulated. Since 2011, only 3 taxi companies have had the rights to pick up passengers at the airport. The airport restricted taxi providers and approved higher standards in an effort to improve service. The decision upset many longtime taxi drivers who depended on consistent income the airport business provided.
Other airports have recently cracked-down on ride sharing. In San Francisco, for example, about a dozen ride-share drivers were arrested over the summer for trying to pick up passengers at the airport.
But Thompson isn’t worried about that. “If I’m out there, and I get a request to do a passenger pickup at the airport, until I’m told ‘no,’ or I get something from the airport that says I’m not allowed to do it, I’m going to be doing it," he says.
But Charlotte City Councilman David Howard says Lyft drivers won’t have any problems, at least for the time being. He says it would send the wrong message for a city that wants to have a tech-savvy image.
But Howard, who heads council’s transportation committee, says something will have to be done eventually.
“I do think we have to start as a city to figure out if this is something we want to embrace or we want to regulate some kind of way," he says. Because, ultimately, what you’re doing is trying to ensure the safety of visitors and people that use these services.”
Charlotte officials are researching Lyft and UberX and looking at how other cities are reacting to the smartphone services. For now, Uber is staying out of the ride-sharing mix at Charlotte-Douglas. Users at the airport are redirected to the company’s black car service, which contracts with licensed limo companies.
In the meantime, Lyft is advertising for new drivers on craigslist.