When it comes to pure, consumer branding experiences, rideshares are up there with quesadillas and apple pie. Except, with Uber and Lyft, they come with a crispy topping of data science.
It seems like every black Uber sticker I see around Portland has a pink Lyft sticker right next to it. You're really only choosing between packaging. This month, Lyft is celebrating being legal in Portland for two years. It hasn't hurt them that internationally they have pitched themselves as Princess Leia to Uber's Darth Vader. One is pink, fuzzy and loudly pro-women, giving out discount cards for rock festivals. The other is an Ayn Rand-ian bro-topolis, fighting for legal turf in cities worldwide.
Lyft brags about Amp, its new signal light in the car that changes color. It is paired to a driver. That way if you are one of dozens of pouring out of the Crystal Ballroom looking for your ride, it can be matched to a color on your phone screen. You can more easily pick out the car with you color form a crowd and be on your way.
Meanwhile Uber makes news for dodgy software practices, the latest being a New York Times report that Uber indelibly "fingerprinted" Apple phones to thwart Chinese fraudsters. Apple does not like app tying their data to individuals and in the best bit of the story, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was scolded in person in early 2015 by Apple CEO Tim Cook. ("Visibly shaken" is not normally in the entrepreneurial book of winning.)
Also, according to the Naked Security blog by Sophos, Uber bought data from Unroll.me on how many Lyft riders were ditching Uber, based on reading their emails.
So when Lyft offered to share some statistics (now known as "key data points") about its Portland operation, I was interested. Here they are:
• $53 million generated - estimated additional spending by Lyft passengers in local economies
• $35.7 million saved - estimated value of time saved by Lyft passengers
• 1 in 3 rides in underserved areas
• Over 147 percent increase in total weekly rides in the past year
• Over 111 percent increase in weekly active drivers in the past year
• Over 144 percent increase in weekly active passengers in the past year
Lyft Portland's General Manager, Kaleb Miller, works out of the company's hub on North Mississippi Avenue, next to Widmer Brewing. Lyft Portland has 18 staff at the hub. It's where you take your car for the mechanical once over, take your rules test, and generally get screened for becoming a Lyft driver. It's also where you go to get your car festively decorated, such as with sweets and scratch-its for Cinco De Mayo.
Miller couldn't break down that $53 million figure. Does it mean the fares add up to $53 million?
"There's $3 million in tips, drivers made over $20 million themselves that they were able to put back into the local economy. I don't have a specific number I can share, but I can say drivers made over $20 million in Portland over the last 12 months."
Does Lyft disclose an average hourly wage of its drivers?
"Drivers come to this platform for several different reasons, and often they come for the flexibility that it provides, so it's really hard to distill it down for one individual." He went on to explain a few people drive Lyft full time, most do it part time.
How do Lyft managers entice drivers if they can't talk about money?
"We do know drivers make a certain amount depending on how many rides, but often times drivers just come on their own, looking for an opportunity. Sometimes we'll run a special with a slight bonus for new drives." Those are the main two ways people come to drive for Lyft.
Do they have a number for how many active drivers there are in the Portland area?
"I can't share the specific flat number, but we've had 112 per cent active drivers this year than last…But I can't share the specifics, that's proprietary information. And it changes from week to week, as drivers come and go. One thing we hear from drivers, it doesn't require a long term commitment."
Uber says it has more than 6,000 drivers and 325,000 riders.
We went on in this vein for a while, me asking for numbers rather than percentage rates, Miller talking about "rolling figures" and information which they don't have. (They don't even know how many of their drivers also drive for other rideshares.)
I asked all this because the whole point of mobile apps is they spew out reams of data about who you are, where you went, when, and perhaps speculate why. Don't all app companies have teams of data scientists slicing and dicing data, some for perfecting their demand curve, and some to be served up as palatable chunks for the media?
For all the machine learning going on out there on room-sized Cray computers, maybe anecdotal evidence is all we consumers need to make decisions about brands? I like the story someone told me that Portland's more experienced Lyft drivers rate customers who drunkenly vomit in their cars. These drivers hang back when they pop up looking for a ride. They know there are enough newbie Lyft drivers out there to take the regurgitators.
I did learn one thing: Lyft gives you the awkward option to tip, while Uber lets you off scot-free. It's a dog-eat-dog world. I deleted both Lyft and Uber from my phone to make room for a game for my son, Clash Royale (the game that rakes in $2 million a day in in-app purchases.) When I'm desperate I go by orange bike.
• • •
Verizon Wireless sent me the new Samsung S8 phone to test. I shot video with my ancient S4 as I unboxed it on my car roof and dropped it in a full swale, mid-rainstorm. (Gotta get to a million likes, right?) The phone is long and skinny, which made it unbalanced when it sat on the heel of my right hand. Also the screen On-Off button was lower than the S4. Despite dropping the S4 every day on concrete (it wears a good rubber case) I am only on my fourth one, and they always replace them for free or the $100 deductible. The S8 has an "infinity" screen that goes right to the edges, so have to hold it like a magician holds the Ace of Hearts.
Sadly, the infinity screen didn't last very long. After four days I dropped it, making a rough dent in the glass on the top right corners with network of cracks leading across to the top left.
Who needs a phone upgrade, really? The camera is better (and you can put animal features on your selfies so much easier) but everything else is much of a muchness. Although one thing it has going for it is more room for apps, like Lyft and Uber. And Clash Royale.
• • •
A Lyft spokesperson added:
I want to clarify the breakdown of how the $53 million generated and spending in local economies was calculated and its methodology.
Land Econ Group (LEG) has projected the economic benefits resulting from Lyft service in its third year (April 2017 through March 2018) of operation in the City of Portland, Oregon. Lyft service has been operational in Portland since April of 2015, nearly two full years. LEG employed a three-step process to estimate the future economic benefits.
The steps are:
The use of cross sectional multiple regression analysis of the metropolitan areas currently served by Lyft, to analyze the relative importance of demographic variables that are effective in predicting the success of Lyft.
The use of linear regression analysis to confirm that the number of Lyft rides is strongly correlated to the economic benefits created by Lyft. The economic benefits were informed by surveys of Lyft drivers and passengers in metropolitan areas around the US.
The use of 23 consecutive months of operating and financial data of Lyft service in Portland to project the magnitude of future Lyft success in the city, covering the number of rides expected and the resulting economic benefits created.
Net gain to local economy
Based on survey responses, the difference between the average amount spent per week in local establishments on shopping and social activities before and after becoming a Lyft passenger was calculated.
This amount was multiplied by 52 weeks and the number of active passengers to calculate total additional spending per year. Only one quarter of that additional spending is estimated to be net new spending (shifted from savings), while the rest is spending shifted from other local businesses and/or services.
The direct revenue gain was multiplied by 2.0, a typical urban economy multiplier that covers direct, indirect and induced
spending, to determine the total net gain in output to the local economy.
Communications Manager, Lyft