All Tech Considered
2:15 pm
Thu November 14, 2013

For Ridesharing Apps Like Lyft, Commerce Is A Community

Originally published on Thu November 14, 2013 4:34 pm

This week on-air and online, the tech team is exploring the sharing economy. You'll find the stories on this blog and aggregated at this link, and we would love to hear your questions about the topic. Just email, leave a comment or tweet.

I didn't know Erin Kelly Myers when I first got into her car outside NPR West in Culver City, Calif.

"I promise I'm a safe driver," she tells me. "Actually, I'm proud to say for 28 years without an accident, so tonight's definitely not the night, good sir. My car, Little Sexy, confirms that."

She's a driver for the ridesharing service Lyft. And yes, she's named her new Honda Accord "Little Sexy."

Lyft is a service that sets up everyday car owners with people who need rides. Users need a smartphone to download the app, a credit or debit card and a Facebook account. The app, which is available in 18 cities, suggests a donation when the ride is done. The passenger can choose to pay the donation or not. It's all done through the app.

The drivers and passengers can also screen each other before accepting the share, and at the end of the ride, they get to rate each other. Both build up a reputation over time.

Myers and I pick up Catalina Lee at her office after work and take her home.

As we drive across town, Lee explains that she's not just taking a rideshare home because she's tired. She does it to meet people with new points of view.

"I only mingle with a certain kind of group, and I don't really get to explore different ways people think. It's just interesting to hear about it," she says.

When you talk to Myers or her passengers, or people participating in food co-ops or other shared economies, their enthusiasm is not about the transactions, necessarily — it's about the community.

"I definitely feel like I'm a part of the fabric and the core of the city now like I never was before," Myers says.

The Sharing Economy Trend

In the past several years, the idea of sharing cars and bikes has begun to take hold in major American cities.

About three years ago was when the movement really took off. The country was coming out of the economic collapse. Smartphones were becoming mainstream. Your grandmother was getting on Facebook.

"There were many more business models emerging, many more entrants, a lot more investment money and a lot more disruption," says Susan Shaheen, who teaches and researches transportation at the University of California, Berkeley.

And people didn't necessarily have the money to own vehicles, but they wanted access.

"Access trumps ownership because it gives you a lot a freedom and flexibility and choice, without a lot of the hassles of ownership, including high fixed costs," Shaheen says.

Ridesharing apps like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar have become important parts of the growing sharing economy. Passengers get the use of an automobile without the hassle of a car note, insurance, parking and gas. It's just a simple economic transaction.

Shaheen says entrepreneurs solved one of the central problems of accessing a vehicle that belongs to someone else: "Getting in a car with someone you don't know has been considered a barrier to ridesharing and carpooling for a very long time," she says.

There wasn't always the technology to create these communities around economic transactions.

Now that there is, Shaheen says, ridesharing is just the beginning.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In the last several years, the notion of car and bike sharing has begun to take hold in major American cities. Services such as Zipcar, Uber, and Lyft have become important parts of this growing, shared economy. The beauty is in its simplicity: Passengers get the use of an automobile without the hassle of owning a car note and paying for insurance, parking and gas.

But as NPR's Sonari Glinton reports, car sharing isn't just about the ride.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: About three years ago was when the car sharing movement really took off.

SUSAN SHAHEEN: When it seemed that there were many more business models emerging, many more entrants, a lot more investment money and a lot more disruption.

GLINTON: That's Susan Shaheen. She's been studying the sharing economy for two decades. And now she teaches and studies transportation sharing at the University of California, Berkeley.

SHAHEEN: Access versus ownership. With time, people will start to understand that access trumps ownership because it gives you a lot a freedom and flexibility and choice, without a lot of the hassles associated with ownership, including high, fixed costs.

GLINTON: Think about it. Three or four years ago, we were coming out of the economic collapse, smartphones were seriously mainstream, your grandma was getting on Facebook. It was kind of like the perfect storm or many little perfect storms. People didn't have the money to own but they wanted access. And then, Shaheen says, entrepreneurs began to solve one of the central problems of sharing your ride.

SHAHEEN: Getting in a car with someone you don't know has been considered a barrier to ride sharing and car pooling for a very long time.

ERIN KELLY MEYERS: I promise I'm a safe driver. Actually, I'm proud to say I've been driving for 28 years without an accident. So tonight is definitely not the night, good sir. My car, Little Sexy, confirms that.

GLINTON: I didn't know Erin Kelly Meyers when I first got into her car just outside of NPR West in Culver City and yes, you heard it right - she's named her new Honda Accord Little Sexy - that's a new one. She's a driver for the car sharing service Lyft.

MEYERS: Lyft is a part of the new sharing economy. It's an app driven peer-to-peer ride sharing app. And it is distinctively different from a lot of other services because we are donation based.

GLINTON: The app, which is available in 18 cities suggests a donation when the ride is done. And you can choose to pay the donation or not. The passenger rates the driver and the driver gets to rate the passenger. The drivers and the passengers get to screen each other before either accepts a ride so if you won't be a jerk, then they won't be jerks. It's kind of an agreement and both of you build up a reputation over time.

MEYERS: Hey girl.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you so much.

MEYERS: Oh, you're welcome. And where can I take you tonight?

GLINTON: We picked up Catalina Lee at her office after work and took her home. As we drove across Los Angeles, she says the reason she takes a car share home is not just because she's tired.

CATALINA LEE: I only mingle with a certain kind of group, and I don't really get to explore different ways people think or - it's just interesting to hear about it. That's why, so it's pretty cool.

GLINTON: Now when you talk to people like Erin Meyers or her passengers, or people in food co-ops or any other number of shared economies, it is not about the transactions, necessarily. It's about the community.

MEYERS: I definitely feel like I'm a part of the fabric and the core of the city now like I never was before. I was very insular and isolated before in my own little social circle and my own little neighborhood and stuff like that. But L.A. can be big and foreboding if you allow it to be.

GLINTON: The transportation expert that I talked to at the top of this piece, Susan Shaheen, says there wasn't always the technology to create these smaller communities in and around any number of economic transactions. Now, there is. Car sharing, she says, it's just beginning. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Culver City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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