Lyft's app calculates a suggested donation based on the distance and time of the ride.
Though unlicensed transportation companies are currently prohibited under city law, the rideshare app Lyft launched Friday in Madison.
The company is launching its Pioneer program in Madison, says spokesperson Paige Thelen. For the first couple weeks of Lyft's operation in the city, anyone who downloads the Lyft app receives two weeks' worth of free rides, she says.
"Our hope is that Lyft will be able to complement existing transportation options in the city and offer a fun, safe and reliable alternative," Thelen says.
Part of its friendly approach includes a suggested "fist-bump to break the ice," between driver and passenger, she adds.
Lyft's services are based on a mobile app, which passengers use to order a ride. Drivers use their personal vehicles, adorned with Lyft's signature fuzzy pink mustache, to take passengers to their destination. The app then calculates a suggested donation based on the distance and time of the ride.
Transportation businesses, however, that take any type of payment for service cannot legally operate in Madison without a license from the city.
Keith Pollock with the city's traffic engineering division says rideshare companies like Lyft must be licensed because they provide public transportation.
"Even if they're working for gratuities, they still need to be licensed by the city,” says Pollock, who downloaded the Lyft app and is monitoring the company's entry into the local market.
He says he has also contacted the Madison Police Department to discuss how city ordinances should be enforced.
Joel DeSpain, spokesperson for the MPD, says in situations like this police will generally respond to complaints and try to resolve the issue voluntarily.
DeSpain says a cab company might complain, which would prompt the police to deal with the company and drivers, as well as work with the city attorney's office to determine if the reported behavior falls outside of city ordinances.
Pollock says he has not talked to anyone at Lyft and has not yet received a response to an email he sent to the company's support line.
Thelen says the company looks forward to discussing its "peer-to-peer business model" and its commitment to safety with Madison city officials.
"We believe that Lyft is a new, innovative solution that doesn't fit into existing frameworks for taxis and for-hire vehicles, so we look forward to starting conversations with city leaders to discuss the unique model," Thelen says.