“Lyft” rides are cheaper, but are they safe?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Need a lift? How about a “Lyft?”

It’s a new transportation service plying the streets and highways of Western New York that is hard to miss.

Each car is adorned with a big pink moustache, and the service is called “Lyft.” Cars are late model, driven by their owners, and the whole operation works through an app on your smartphone. You can schedule your pickup, pay for your ride, and apply for a driver’s job.

Driver, Jim Chilton of North Tonawanda says, the Lyft app works in conjunction with Facebook.

“They are using Facebook to match people up that have empty seats in their cars, with people that are looking for rides.”

Lyft officials insist the service is different from taxis and limousines. They call it “peer-to-peer ridesharing,” and at the end of a trip, passengers “donate” a suggested amount, rather than paying a fare.

The rides are cheaper, and the drivers use their own cars.

“The people have an opportunity to enter a donation into their app, and they can enter the suggested fair,” said Chilton.

And when it comes to tipping, he said, “They can enter a little less, if they were not happy with the service. If they thought it was an exceptional experience, they can add a little tip.”

Riders submit a credit card number when they sign up for Lyft, and the donation shows up in the driver’s account the next day.

Lyft was formed in San Francisco seven years ago and has now come to Upstate New York, sparking a wave of opposition among taxi and limousine operators. Lyft rides are cheaper because they face much less regulation, but folks who drive for a living are raising issues of fairness and safety.

“This isn’t about a competition thing. This is solely about safety,” says Kevin Barwell, president of the Limousine, Bus, Taxi Operators of Upstate New York.

Barwell has worked in the limousine business for 30 years, and insists a special “Driver for Hire” license is required in New York for anyone who gets paid to drive.

“Doesn’t matter if you are getting a bag of potatoes, you are still getting compensated for your trip, so you have to have this type of license.”

Barwell adds driving for hire also raises the cost of your car insurance.

“In New York State, you are required to have For Hire Insurance. Now this For Hire Insurance covers the people that are in the vehicle, and this is up to $1 million to $5 million per liability, per occurrence.”

City lawmakers could slam the brakes on Lyft in Buffalo. Taxi service is heavily regulated in the city, and Taxi Cab Committee Chairman Joe Golombek says his concern is, Lyft drivers, who may be under-insured, “because, God forbid, if there is an accident, if they don’t have the proper insurance, the person that gets hit, the person that is in the car is not going to be able to get the coverage that they would get with a taxi cab.”

Lyft pick-ups are also marked by a “fist bump” between drivers and riders to celebrate the cheap ride, but that low key celebration might be history in Buffalo.

Common Council members are having a tough time getting a Lyft representative to City Hall to answer their questions, a necessity if they want to operate in Buffalo.

A spokesperson for Lyft responded to News 4 with a list of assurances they offer for the safety of passengers and drivers:


Our first-of-its-kind insurance plan provides drivers with additional coverages for ultimate peace of mind. Lyft offers:
• Excess Liability: $1,000,000 limit covering driver liability for bodily injury and/or property damage of passengers and/or third parties (applies from the time a driver accepts a ride request until the time the ride is ended in the app)
• Contingent Comprehensive & Collision: $2,500 deductible and $50,000 maximum applicable to drivers who purchase collision & comprehensive coverage on their personal policy (applies from the time a driver accepts a ride request until the time the ride is ended in the app)
• Excess Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist: $1,000,000 limit covering bodily injury of drivers and/or passengers and/or third parties for damages caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist who is at fault (applies from the time a driver accepts a ride request until the time the ride is ended in the app)
• Contingent Liability: up to $50,000 per person /$100,000 per accident /$25,000 physical damage, covering driver liability for bodily injury and/or property damage of passengers and/or third parties (applies from the time when a driver flips into driver mode until the driver accepts a ride request)

We created our $1M liability and uninsured/underinsured policies as excess over a driver’s personal insurance. The excess coverages will also drop down and act as primary insurance when the driver’s personal policy doesn’t respond. Our contingent coverages step in if a driver’s personal policy doesn’t respond and do not act as excess or in addition to the driver’s own personal policy.


Every driver is screened for criminal offenses and driving incidents. The criminal background check includes national and county-level databases, as well as national sex offender registries.


• Aged 23 or older, with an active U.S. driver’s license for 1+ years
• Valid personal auto insurance that meets or exceeds state requirements
• No more than two moving violations in the past three years (e.g. accidents, traffic light violations)
• No major violations in the past three years (e.g. driving on a suspended license, speeding 21+ mph over the limit)
• No DUIs or other drug-related driving violations
• No more than one severe infraction on your lifetime driving history
• No extreme infractions on your lifetime driving history (e.g. hit-and-run, felonies involving a vehicle)


• No violent crimes
• No sexual offenses
• No theft
• No property damage
• No felonies


Cars must be model year 2000 or newer, and pass a 19-point vehicle inspection before hitting the road. We conduct all vehicle safety screenings in-person, so we can examine everything from tail lights to tire tread.

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