Lyfting Providence Travelers

The unique dysfunction Rhode Islanders have around parking has attracted a new warrior in the battle for transportation dominance around Providence.

Lyft is a recent start-up from San Francisco that essentially crowdsources ridesharing using a phone app and volunteer drivers. After two years in San Fran and a year in LA, the app rolls out to Providence this week, one of 19 cities being added this year.

Spokesperson Paige Thelen explained that a vital part of Lyft’s mission is to bring a human element to the world of apps and depersonalized transportation options. “It’s an in-person experience,” she says, “That’s why we encourage riders to sit up front. Drivers have profiles, and friendships have developed from rides together,” says Thelen, proudly rattling off some of the day jobs various drivers hold – including firefighters, flight attendants, moms and students


“Safety is a priority too,” she adds, describing their insurance, driver vetting process and vehicle requirements. Finally, the process is “usually 20 to 30% cheaper than a cab.”

Lyft’s entry into Providence was kicked off with a party at Aurora in downtown Providence at the end of last week. Quontay, a Providence resident who’s been driving for Lyft in Boston, was thrilled to have a chance to do it close to home. “I really like people,” she explained, “but I’m also kind of an introvert. This is a way of talking to people and meeting people that’s really natural for me.” And the pay is competitive too. “The company takes a commission, but it’s very fair,” she says.

When asked if the service help reduce drunk driving, Thelen says, “We don’t have any hard statistics on that yet – but we’re always gathering info on what times people ask for rides, etc. Our late night drivers are encouraged to have bottles of water handy for riders who might need them. We think it certainly must help somewhat.”

Why is Providence one of the cities selected? Lyft says, “The service is predicted to do well in cities with active young populations, with a concentration of artists, writers and outside-the-box thinkers. Also, cities that have a certain level of eco-consciousness and tech-friendliness. Providence fits all of that.” The spokesperson doesn’t use the word “hipster,” but does reference “hip people.”

No mention is made of Providence’s sometimes pathological parking-phobia, but one imagines that can only help the service. As the city negotiates to remove Zip Car parking spots in favor of more revenue-producing parking meters, RI citizens continue to cite parking as an inhibiting factor when they consider visiting the city, and plans to remap public transportation continue to stretch their timelines. Maybe part of the Providence transportation conundrum can be solved by a mobile app start up with the right kind of drive.

The Lyft app is available wherever you download stuff for your phone. They also have a website at

If you have a driving experience with Lyft, feel free to share it with us.