Is Lyft “Ridesharing” or “Ride-Hailing”? Emily Castor Responds

The Associated Press recently decided to stop using the term “ridesharing” to refer to services like Lyft. Naturally, many of us think the phrase should stick around — and despite the new guidelines, we predict it will. Emily Castor, our Director of Transportation Policy  and avid transportation wonk, shares her perspective on what it means to share a ride.

Lyft's Director of Community Relations, Emily Castor

Lyft's Director of Community Relations, Emily Castor

Ridesharing is at the core of Lyft’s mission. Since we first launched as a college carpooling website called Zimride back in 2007, we’ve been working to fill every seat in every car. Filling all those empty seats brings communities closer together, reduces traffic, and cuts climate pollution. The thing is, carpooling has always had a chicken-and-egg problem: To provide reliable, on-demand rides, you need a lot of users, but to gain users, you need to offer those rides. So, we started with a different model that gave drivers flexibility to give rides even when they weren’t already going somewhere. This is what you know as classic Lyft, and it has helped us build up a popular, reliable network.
Now, Lyft has enough users in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City to fill more empty seats through Lyft Line and Driver Destination. Multiple passengers headed in the same direction often request rides at the same time, so we can match them with one driver through Lyft Line. Same with Driver Destination — matching commuters with riders traveling on their way. 
These features fill more car seats, bring prices down for passengers, and raise earnings for drivers. And, they’re good for the environment, reducing harmful emissions and making it easier to live car-free. Classic Lyft rides are still useful to make sure Lyft stays reliable during less popular times to share a ride, and in less populated areas. Together, these different ways of riding and driving create a vibrant shared ride platform that will make a lasting difference. And that’s why ridesharing is who we are, and what we’re doing.

Want more? Check out Emily's full response below.

Hello friends. :) I have very strong feelings on this issue, as do our founders, who have been running ridesharing platforms for 7.5 years, from our birth as Zimride. 
I cannot speak for our competitors, but Lyft's use of the term "ridesharing" to describe our platform is not a marketing ploy – it is reflective of the fact that our core continuing long-term mission is to achieve mainstream adoption of high-occupancy vehicle use.
To my knowledge, no "purist" real-time (on-demand) ridesharing system has ever been successful in building true mainstream adoption because a chicken-and-egg problem: you need a large number of participants to make rides reliably available in an on-demand system, but you can't get a large number of participants because rides are not reliably available. Witness past attempts like Avego and RiderBee that have never gotten traction.
Lyft was intentionally started with a different model, controlling the supply side of the equation: allowing drivers to take you anywhere you need to go, so it would be reliable from the start and generate mainstream adoption. The purpose of that was to build density. Now, in mature markets like San Francisco, New York, and LA, we have density. We have so many people taking rides that we can start leveraging this critical mass to make incidental matches (what Robin considers "real" sharing!). 
Here's how we're doing it:
1) Lyft Line: We launched Lyft Line last August, matching multiple passenger groups with the same driver so trips have higher occupancy and prices come down. This has been very successful in our pilot markets in SF, LA, and NYC - well over one-third of Lyft rides in those cities are now Lyft Line rides. This feature will have a very clear impact in reducing VMT and therefore, emissions.
"Juan Matute, Associate Director at UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, also provided additional insight around the need for shared transit in LA. “The transportation sector is the largest source of climate pollution, accounting for 37% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions,” he told us. “If more Southern Californians regularly engaged in shared rides like Lyft Line, we could see a reduction in rush hour traffic congestion and petroleum use. In fact, if ridesharing in California increased by only three percent, fuel use could be reduced by 713 million gallons a year.
2) Driver Destination: Launched in November, this feature allows drivers to filter the requests they receive so they can be matched with passengers traveling along routes they are already traveling for their own reasons. This is real carpooling in the traditional sense, but because it is integrated in the broader Lyft platform among other (non-incidental) sources of driver supply, passengers keep coming back to the app even when there isn't a match, helping retain density. Classic Lyft smooths out the gaps in supply from carpooling sources (helping serve off-peak times, less dense locations, etc).
Connecting these rides will also help reduce traffic and expand sustainable transit options. According to Amanda Eaken, Deputy Director of Sustainable Communities at the Natural Resources Defense Council, "Enabling people who were already driving somewhere to seamlessly pick up a passenger gets us one step closer to real-time, dynamic ride-sharing. This will not only help reduce the number of cars on our congested roads, it will also cut our oil demand and carbon pollution.
So, that's my long way of saying that we're sticking with ridesharing. It's who we are, and it's what we're doing. Hope that's OK. :) 

Check out Emily's SlideShare presentation on the topic if you're hungry for more.