Car-sharing service Lyft goes public, adds Android app

Lyft, the San Francisco-based mobile app from car-sharing company Zimride, has launched out of beta on Thursday with iOS and will release an Android app shortly, testing the viability of the real-time ride-sharing in a market flooded with transportation options for urban smartphone owners.

Lyft was launched this summer in private beta as the locally oriented real-time sister app to trip-sharing service Zimride, designed for individuals who might otherwise take a taxi or call a popular but much more expensive Uber car to get to their destination nearby.

The riders and drivers can look at each other’s profiles and the app is using Facebook Connect for log-in and social security. Once booked, riders can watch their drivers navigate to them on a mobile map in real-time.

The app was previously only available to a limited number of users on iPhone in private beta. Now, the app is publicly available in the iOS App Store, and the Android app will launch on Tuesday. The company said that 80 percent of first-time users become repeat customers within the month, and they now conduct “hundreds” of rides per day. Uber has popularized the idea of summoning a car via smartphone, but the question is whether there will be enough Lyft drivers and riders to make the system work on a larger, real-time scale. The founders said they understand this issue, and are working quickly to scale the business as it grows.

In taking a Lyft ride, I was disappointed that the app doesn’t provide riders with an estimated cost for the intended ride. Unfamiliar users might be worried about incurring a high rate, and my driver said she couldn’t quote one for me. However, the company said riders can expect to pay about 20 to 30 percent less than they would for a taxi, and I was pleasantly surprised by how low the cost was for my ride.

The fare is also a suggested rate, so riders can raise or lower what they pay depending on the service they receive. Lyft encourages riders to sit in the front seat with the driver, charge their phones, DJ the tunes and fist-bump upon entrance and exit of the car, so it feels more like taking a ride with a friend than a cab driver. All of the cars display large fuzzy, pink mustaches on them, so you might see them around San Francisco.