Uber and Lyft are the Hatfields and the McCoys of ordering cars on your telephone—if the more affluent Hatfields had $1.5 billion in venture financing to the McCoys' piss poor $332 million. Now the feud the companies started in San Francisco has traveled 3,000 miles without losing any steam.
At the same exact time that Uber announced an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman not to price gouge during emergencies (praise startups!), Lyft announced that it would launch in New York City this week. In a savvy bit of marketing, Lyft is positioning itself as a populist alternative to Uber's elitism. According to the New York Times:
The company's initial target is those in boroughs outside Manhattan, namely Brooklyn and Queens, who commute there.
"Those are the areas that are most underserved by public transportation," John Zimmer, Lyft's chief executive, said in an interview. "There's a huge need to unlock the city for people who want to access it at a lower price point."
Zimmer gestures at a real problem. Back in 2011, when the City Council first started debating the efficacy of e-hailing apps, council members were particularly concerned about how they would effect Bronx residents, voicing worries about a two-tiered system, especially for residents without a credit card.
Focusing on the outer-boroughs is not necessarily an act of good will, but rather a typical part of the expansion process. A beta test, if you will.
And Uber has another leg up on Lyft in New York. While new Lyft users can hail drivers from Brooklyn and Queens for rides up to 60 miles in any direction, they cannot summon rides from inside Manhattan, as they can with Uber. Lyft said it was common for the company to start in a new city on a small scale, to make sure the service is reliable before further expansion. For now, however, Manhattan users are stuck taking the subway — or a ride found through Uber — back to Brooklyn.
There is no mention of the Bronx in the New York Times article, but the Bronx and Staten Island are all over Lyft's new commercial celebrating why the city needs Lyft.
Tech company commercials have raised the bar on absurdity and insanity before. Ads are designed to move product, so naturally companies will pull any heartstring they can monetize. But Lyft's commercial leans awfully hard on the sharing economy's insistence that it can change the world. What do pink mustaches and venture capital have to do with upward mobility and ethnic diversity? Not much, but sit back and enjoy the heroic soundtrack.
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[Image via YouTube/Lyft]