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Prepare for Lyft off in Manteca
App-based ride-share program gaining popularity in valley
LYFT RIDE5-6-7-14
Manteca Bulletin Managing Editor James Burns gets a ride from Lyft driver Celso Sousa as they head out of the Kmart parking lot on Friday. - photo by HIME ROMERO


• ARRIVAL: Requested a driver at 1:06 p.m. and Ceslo Sousa, a founding driver in this area, arrived at 1:13 p.m. 

• CLEANLINESS: Sousa’s 2005 SUV was in good condition and clean. He says he washes his car every other day – and not because of his job with Lyft. He simply likes a clean, well-maintained vehicle.

• ATTITUDE: Lyft asks both driver and passenger to rate their experience and interaction with the other. Sousa earned five stars out of a possible five stars for: 1) the swiftness in which he arrived; 2) the fist bump, which we learned is a standard greeting among Lyft drivers; 3) the conversation (our discussions covered our significant others, children, job history and the evolution of Lyft); and 4) the comfort of the ride. 

• COST: Users in the Modesto coverage area are subject to mile and minute charges. Passengers pay $2 per mile ($2) and $.30 per minute, as well as  pickup and trust and safety fees. The minimum charge is $6. Our ride from the Bulletin to Kmart to the In-Shape Sports Club on East Yosemite Avenue: $26.

Mark Kosier is a 6-foot-7 computer repairman – and that’s not even the most interesting thing about him.

No, that would be the pink mustache, so big and furry and curly it could cover the grill of his Chevy truck.

And it does.

Kosier is the face of a growing transportation trend, one that combines technology and networking and a gimmicky pink mustache to provide a revolutionary ride-sharing program.

It’s called Lyft, and with the push of a button, a friendly fist bump and front seat invitation, Kosier is happy to give you one.

Lyft is the latest venture in a world made easier by mobile phones. The free app allows people to request a ride from a driver in their area with the push of a button. 

This isn’t your traditional taxi service, either. Passengers in most cities make “donations” to their drivers as opposed to paying fares. 

Lyft bills itself as a cheaper, friendlier and faster alternative to taxis and cabs.

“It’s a convenience,” said Kosier, who drives part-time five or six days a week. He tries to schedule his Lyft shifts around computer work orders. “No one exchanges money. Everything is linked through Facebook. All drivers have background checks and it’s cheaper than taxis.

“With our app, you can be right there in the bar and request a ride and we’re there in five minutes. With taxis, it’s 30 minutes to an hour before they show up. They (taxi drivers) seem to hate us. I think they know we’ll eventually faze them out.”

That remains to be seen. 

While app-based ride-share programs have exploded nationally – Lyft has operations in 60 cities, including its home base in San Francisco, Sacramento, Boston, Chicago and Washington D.C. – Kosier says business has been “hit or miss” in the North San Joaquin Valley. 

Kosier is one of about 40 drivers that service the stretch of highway between Manteca, Modesto and Turlock. Each driver undergoes a background check and vehicle inspection before they are hired.

Ceslo Souza is a Manteca native and founding driver in this coverage area. He says Lyft’s popularity in Manteca – considered the outskirts of the Modesto coverage area – is growing and should skyrocket now that Lyft has launched in Stockton, connecting the Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

Proof Mantecans are using the app: By lunchtime on Friday, Sousa had already given five rides, including a roundabout trip to the Bulletin, which totaled $26 and three stops at different locations throughout the city. 

“I believe it’s the new and improved way to take a cab,” Sousa said. “Why deal with cab companies when you can deal with people up close and personal?”

Lyft was at its most popular when it first launched in Modesto in April. At that time, new customers were given 50 free credits for downloading the app. Right now, his busiest shifts are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, when bar patrons need a ride to their next stop.

Modesto’s bar scene is the most lucrative. Kosier says he averages $250-300 a night as a safe ride between Point A and Point B.

“Modesto’s bar scene can be crazy,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend anybody quitting their day jobs and doing this full-time, but so far it’s been pretty good.”

The app is free and stores your credit card information for payment. In most cities, passengers can make a donation. 

Users in the Modesto coverage area are subject to mile and minute charges. Passengers pay $2 per mile ($2) and $.30 per minute, as well as  pickup and trust and safety fees. The minimum charge is $6. Lyft is not permitted to offer rides to and from airports.

By comparison, Red Top Taxi in Manteca charges $5 for the first mile and $2.50 for every additional mile. It will also charge you $.41 per minute when asked to sit and wait.

Lyft also fosters a relationship between driver and passenger. Users can log onto Lyft and see just how far away the nearest driver is, and then track their arrival. Users are also sent a picture of their driver, all in the name of comfort and transparency.

“You’re letting strangers in your car and never know who you’re picking up, so, yeah, it can be a little awkward sometimes,” Kosier said. “Once you start though, it’s like picking up your friends because they’re people you now know.”

That sense of community is what Lyft thrives on. It wants to create a network and strong reputation one lift at a time. To that end, Lyft hasn’t invested much into advertising, relying instead on its drivers to market the app with business cards, flyers and of course, their prompt and safe escort. 

“We try to be better than a taxi,” Kosier said. “We don’t want you to sit in the backseat. We want you in the front. We want to give you a fist bump. Be the deejay, get on the radio.”