Monday, April 28, 2014

5 Things Cofounder John Zimmer Wants St. Louis to Know About Lyft

Posted By on Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge John Zimmer, cofounder at Lyft. - TECH CRUNCH ON FLICKR

Sure, Lyft isn't following the rules for ride-for-hire businesses in St. Louis.

And why should they, asks the company's cofounder, John Zimmer. The rules were designed for taxis and car services, whereas he created Lyft to be something else entirely -- a peer-to-peer marketplace where anyone with a car can find, verify, pick up, drop off and get paid by passengers all on the company's Facebook-integrated app.

"It is new, what we're doing is new," Zimmer tells Daily RFT. So why should Lyft abide by rules written in the days when you hailed a cab off the street with a strong whistle? "Those were written decades ago, when this wasn't possible."

See also: As Lyft Fights Back in St. Louis, Rival App Uber Gets Support from Mayor Slay

click to enlarge Lyft co-founders John Zimmer (L) and Logan Green fist bump. - TECH CRUNCH ON FLICKR, CROPPED

St. Louis officials don't seem to agree with Zimmer's "the-rules-don't-apply-to-me" take on his growing business. A judge has ordered Lyft to stop operating in the city and county, and Mayor Francis Slay is throwing his weight behind Uber, a rival app-based ride business that wants to move into the St. Louis market.

What's the problem? It all comes down to keeping drivers and passengers safe. An Uber driver is charged with running over and killing a six-year-old girl on New Year's Eve while waiting for a fare.

"This is about safety," Bob Olandi, the deputy director of the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission, told Daily RFT on the night Lyft launched and police cited a Lyft driver for operating without a proper license. "We have nothing against Lyft, but there's a process here. There's a state law that says there's a process here."

Charles Billings, a lawyer for the taxicab commission, put it even simpler: "This is flying an airplane without the FAA."

The taxicab commission recently changed some of its rules to create room for app-based, car-dispatching businesses. Carmel, a New York-based company, was the first ride-hailing app to go live in St. Louis, albeit without any fanfare.

But Zimmer says Lyft's business model is more collaborative and flexible than the new license allows for. Lyft drivers are typically students, artists and entrepreneurs selling an underused resource (the empty seats in their cars) to tech-savvy passengers looking for a cheaper alternative to taxis via an online marketplace.

And to Zimmer, that means St. Louis' code of laws governing taxis and ride-hailing apps just doesn't apply to Lyft.

"That's not our model, that's not how this operates," Zimmer says. "We're not trying to be difficult."

So if he's not trying to be difficult, what exactly is Zimmer trying to be? We had to ask.

Click to the next page for the five big takeaways from Daily RFT's conversation with John Zimmer, the cofounder of Lyft:

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