Lyft Decides to Do Something About Its Cab Customers Who Door Its Bike Customers

The company that operates a massive taxi system and the nation's busiest bike share system realizes that it needs to do more to protect its most vulnerable customers.

As taxi companies like Lyft and Uber get into the bike share business, they face a conundrum: how to get their cab customers and drivers to stop behaving in ways that endanger their bike customers. Lyft is now offering a small new way to help.

Starting this week, Lyft cab passengers will get a notification about 10 minutes into the ride reminding them to look first before opening the car door. It will look something like this:

lyft door warning

In a blog post announcing the new notifications, the company also asked passengers to use the so-called “Dutch reach,” a technique to open a car door with your opposite hand so that your head will turn in the direction of the oncoming traffic.

It’s unclear how many, if any, Lyft customers will read the blog post or watch the PSA about the “Dutch reach.” But the notification did raise some questions about who should be most responsible for keeping people safe outside the cab.

“It’s fine to ask passengers to look before opening their door, but that’s literally the least a company can do,” said Jeff Novich, who created the Reported app, which allows people to easily report errant cabbies to the Taxi and Limousine Commission. “It just passes the blame on to a non-professional.”

Indeed, it’s nice that Lyft is talking about the issue. But the safety problems related to taxis do not begin and end with the passenger. The tens of thousands of Lyft, Uber and conventional taxi drivers routinely pull into bike lanes, idle in bike lanes, park in bike lanes, block curb cuts, obstruct crosswalks and park in bus lanes.

All of this is a danger to the public.

Uber owns Jump and Lyft owns Citi Bike.
Uber owns Jump and Lyft owns Citi Bike.

That’s bad enough in a yellow cab driver, but it’s especially egregious when done by Lyft or Uber drivers, given the companies’ ownership of two massive bike-share companies, Citi Bike and Jump, respectively. The hypocrisy is not lost on cycling advocates. A group of Boston bikers recently sent Uber and Lyft a letter demanding better training for drivers — or at least some sort effort at corporate synergy between the drivers of Lyft or Uber cars and the riders of Lyft or Uber bikes that are constantly being endangered by them.

Uber spokesman Harry Hartfield told the Boston Globe, “We regularly educate drivers on the rules and regulations on bike lanes and hope to meet with these groups to address their concerns.”

For now, Lyft has at least gone one further, with the mobile notifications. Uber did not respond to a request for comment from Streetsblog.

But Novich, for one, thinks both companies can do a lot more, such as barring pickups that would block a bike lane, whose locations could easily be programmed into the companies’ mapping systems.

“When a pickup is requested, the location should be automatically either moved to a side street or area that is not in conflict with a painted bike lane,” Novich said, praising a Lyft pilot program that prevented pickups directly on busy Valencia Street in San Francisco last year. A passenger wanting to be picked up on the “wrong” side of the street could get a message, “Your pickup location is on the west side of the street because we don’t want to block the bike lane on 26th Street,” and a similar message could be sent to the driver (“Make sure to pick up on the west side. Do not block the bike lane as this is illegal, dangerous to cyclists and can incur a $100 fine”), Novich said.

“The data [from Reported] generally shows that the majority of drivers simply are not aware it’s illegal to block bike lanes,” Novich said, citing one of the most-frequent charges against cabbies that come through his app. “We don’t really have an epidemic of ‘dooring’ cyclists. We have an epidemic of blocked bike lanes and a patchwork of poorly designed, conflict-laden bike infrastructure. Lyft isn’t going to solve what DOT or the mayor should be doing, but as the owner of Citi Bike, Lyft can have a lot more influence over how drivers/passengers interact and could be doing a lot more for cyclist safety, given the unique position they’re in.”

Lyft will be offering free Citi Bike rides on April 22 — today! — to commemorate Earth Day. (Details here.)