When I moved to New York from San Francisco, there were plenty of things I missed: Mission burritos, beautiful Victorian houses, and runs through the Presidio chief among them. But I also felt a twinge of nostalgia for the hot pink mustaches that denoted Lyft rides cruising the city streets. Sadly, Lyft is abandoning those mustaches when it hits the streets of Brooklyn and Queens on Friday, with all rides free for the first two weeks.
The ride-sharing app is bypassing Manhattan for now, because hailing a ride in the city is almost never a problem: 95 percent of taxi rides in NYC originate in Manhattan or at one of the city's two airports.
Brooklyn and Queens see less cab coverage for a host of reasons: Manhattan is where the bulk of the tourist action is, for one. I live in Brooklyn and have had many a cab driver tell me how difficult it is to find another fare in the borough, so they'd rather trek back to Manhattan. Also, hailing a cab on the street in New York City's outer boroughs was only legalized last year, so residents had to pre-arrange their rides. Now special green, outer-boro cabs cruise around Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island, but they're nowhere near as ubiquitous as yellow cabs.
In the meantime, Queens residents trying to get to Brooklyn (and vice versa) have to rely on the notoriously slow G train. New York in the last year has made strides toward embracing transit apps that could ease that G train pain, approving companies like Uber and Hailo to operate through next April as part of an e-hail pilot program. Uber has become incredibly popular since setting up shop in New York, and its battles with traditional taxi companies here have been considerably less fraught than in other cities.
While UberX drivers in New York are typically licensed taxi or livery drivers, Lyft will be relying on its standard ride-sharing model, wherein normal folks with their own cars offer lifts. Launching in Brooklyn and Queens makes more sense under the ride-sharing model, because outer-borough residents are more likely to own cars than Manhattanites. Queens County last year had nearly 700,000 standard vehicle registrations on file, while Kings County (which encompasses Brooklyn) had more than 400,000. New York County, i.e. Manhattan, had a little over 220,000 registered cars.
It seems like Uber knew Lyft was coming: The company on Monday slashed its UberX NYC rates by 20 percent, presumably to undercut cabs, but those fares will also rival Lyft's. Lyft's prices are typically lower than Uber's in cities where both apps are operating. Lyft is offering two weeks of free rides to New Yorkers to start, though it's unclear how its rates will compare to Uber's after the promotional period.