Lyft is piloting a new program that will charge riders a premium for access to highly-rated drivers in newer vehicles. The program, called Lyft Preferred, is rolling out starting today in select cities across the U.S. and Canada.
The basic premise behind Lyft Preferred is simple — If you want to guarantee your ride will be clean, spacious, and go over without a hitch, you pay a bit extra. For drivers, the program rewards them for keeping their rating at 4.9 or above with bonuses for each Preferred ride they complete. Vehicles eligible for Lyft Preferred can be manufactured no earlier than 2014, and must have at least 37 inches of legroom. Drivers must also have high marks for the cleanliness of their cars.
Uber already offers a similar program called Uber Comfort, which additionally allows riders to set temperature and conversation preferences (e.g. I don’t want to talk) before their ride begins.
Getting around new gig worker laws — Such programs can help the ridesharing giants ensure a consistent experience for riders even as new laws are hindering their ability to exert too much control over drivers. Uber and Lyft want their drivers to continue being classified as contractors so they don't have to pay out benefits or guaranteed wages, but doing so means drivers must have flexibility in how they perform their work. Lyft Preferred and Uber Comfort encourage drivers to adhere to certain standards, but they aren't punished for non-participation.
Uber and Lyft argue that drivers on their platforms should be classified as independent contractors because they have freedom to choose when they drive based on the price of fares at any time of day. Critics say, however, that many drivers rely on the income to pay their bills and are at the mercy of the ridesharing giants who may shut down their accounts at any moment. In response, Uber has begun letting some California drivers set their own fares and see the destination of a ride before accepting the job. Wired recently reported that the company isn't punishing drivers for turning down too many ride requests, either.
Lyft Preferred is rolling out to the following cities over the next few weeks: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City, Ottawa, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Savannah, Seattle, Tampa, and Toronto.