Rob Miller has used the popular ride-hailing service Lyft when he’s traveled, but he had never hailed a ride in his hometown of Rochester, Minn., or been chauffeured by a driver using a pickup truck.
The president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce used Lyft twice to get around on the first day that service began operating in the state’s third largest city.
“With the city growing at the pace that it is and the creation of Destination Medical Center, having another source of transportation is a positive,” he said. “The service was prompt, courteous. My driver was grinning from ear to ear. If this is a testament on whether we have enough drivers, then it’s working.”
Lyft is the only ride-hailing service in the Med City at the moment, but Uber isn’t far behind. Last week, San Francisco-based Uber filed an application to begin service and is recruiting drivers.
“Our team is in crunch mode working through all the operational details to get Uber up and running in Rochester,” said spokeswoman Molly Spaeth. “We hope to have more to share soon.”
The arrival of Lyft and Uber in Rochester comes after months of heated discussions and fears from taxicab companies that ride-hailing services would create an uneven playing field. Residents had pushed for the services. In January, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance allowing transportation networking companies, or TNCs, to operate in Rochester.
Both companies use freelance drivers who can work whenever they want for as long as they want. Drivers respond to the requests submitted by riders who use their smartphones to arrange transportation. Payment is made through the app. Both are available for iPhone and Android users.
Once available only in major metropolitan areas, Lyft is aggressively challenging Uber, its larger rival, for market share by expanding into small- and midsize cities. The fast-growing company rolled out service in 40 cities in January and 54 more on Thursday. The cities, in addition to Rochester, include St. Cloud and Mankato in Minnesota; Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks in North Dakota; Eau Claire and four other communities in Wisconsin, and five cities in Iowa.
Lyft is now available in nearly 300 cities nationwide, the company said.
“We’re excited about the explosive growth coming in 2017, allowing even more passengers to experience all that Lyft stands for: a friendly, affordable ride people can rely on,” said Jaime Raczka, head of Early Stage Markets & Expansion.
New passengers can use the code LYFTLOVE17 to receive $5 off their first Lyft ride.
Lyft’s arrival in St. Cloud was welcomed by the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“It’s been something we’ve been waiting and hoping for for a long time,” said Emily Bertram, who handles marketing and social media for the organization. “Lyft is progressive and the younger generation uses it. From a job standpoint, it will be a great opportunity for employees. We hope it will get more people to the downtown area.”
Miller said the services could be a boon to Rochester, especially as Destination Medical Center moves ahead. The 20-year project is a Mayo Clinic-driven effort to maintain the city’s prominence in health care, medicine and research.
User Stacia Lebeck was ecstatic about Lyft’s arrival in Rochester. “Thank God hallelujah for not having to take $10-per-mile taxi rides anymore,” she wrote on Facebook.
Miller called the service “great” and told his newly minted driver that “this is the first one in a pickup truck!”