Lyft Leans Into “Woke” Image In an Attempt to Unseat Uber

March 30, 2017 - 3 minutes read

As Uber struggles to shake the bad press that has come to define its year so far, its primary competitor Lyft is seizing its moment and trying to move out of a distant second place in the rideshare market. Ever since the #DeleteUber commotion in January, Lyft’s strategy seems to be to present itself as the “woke” alternative to Uber. With its passengers-up-front policy, in-app tipping feature, and goofy pink mustache marketing, Lyft has always looked like the friendlier rideshare company, but now the company has solidified that image into a moral stance. In a recent interview, the startup’s president John Zimmer recently told Time Magazine, “In our minds, there’s been a contrast in the values, there’s been a contrast in the type of business we’re building.” The big question for the idealistic app developer is whether the high road Lyft is taking is paved with gold.

In some ways, the answer appears to be “yes.” In the immediate aftermath of Uber’s decision to continue to offer rides to New Yorkers during the transportation strike over Trump’s first travel ban, Lyft pounced on the opportunity to appear virtuous, donating $1 million to the ACLU in a gesture of solidarity. Most Android app developers would characterize the donation as a smart marketing move, especially for a business that tends to serve young, progressive-leaning city dwellers. That weekend, the startup saw a 40% increase in app downloads and a 60% jump in installations. Since then, Lyft taken approximately 5% of Uber’s market share, giving the company a fifth of the rideshare app pie. It is now hoping to raise $500 million from investors to capitalize on its sudden momentum.

But Lyft can’t just define itself in opposition to Uber, especially if its aim is to be the number one rideshare app someday; it needs good ideas and even better execution. Its latest concept to roll out is Shuttle, a commuter option that offers rides on fixed routes with a flat fare. Lyft’s take on the city bus, the feature allows app developers in test cities San Francisco and Chicago to hail a vehicle on a set route during prime commute hours (6:30 to 10:00 in the morning, 4:00 to 8:00 in the evening) without having to pay surge rates typically in effect at those times. It’s an interesting idea, but Uber is already doing something similar with Uber Hop. Lyft’s other big announcement this week, a new “Round Up and Donate” initiative, showcases the startup’s big heart, but it’s hardly the type of innovation that will have Uber shaking in its boots.

If Lyft wants to dethrone Uber, its going to need more than high-minded publicity moves, especially since Uber’s user experience and service is still widely considered to be superior. But anything could happen if the $70 billion unicorn’s reputation continues to plummet.

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