When I visited Lyft HQ when it first opened, they had a large mural timeline of their origin story. Basically in 2006 Logan Green went to Zimbabwe and observed a “lift system” of crowd-sourced carpool networks. He came back to America and made a copy called Zimride (Zimbabwe Ride).
I’ll never forget being in the office (for meetings) hearing staff relate this story to me, how their founder vacationed in Africa after college and marveled at the “safety” of apartheid’s white parents method of ride-sharing their kids to school.
They didn’t say the exact word apartheid, of course, but the description of a “safe” system would have raised alarms for any person familiar with Zimbabwean history.
Also the company tells the story very differently to the press, claiming the founder was just looking at taxis in Zimbabwe.
Zimride, in fact, is not a derivation of Zimmer’s name but a riff on Zimbabwe, where Green, now CEO, had observed the local propensity for ridesharing in minivan taxis.
This of course makes no sense at all since the company never attempted to look at let alone improve efficiency of taxis anywhere.
In 2013 the founder decided to rename his creation “Lyft” like the apartheid “lift system”, and sold the Zimbabwe-inspired name to Enterprise. Thus the Africa reference only lived on with a painted mural in the office, which I only happened to see because they invited me inside.
Let me also put it this way, the dirty “big lips” pillows wired to the front of original Lyft vehicles were a nod to the “safety” of apartheid ride shares. It was meant as very obvious physical safety signaling; a person who would dare to put such a thing on their car was advertised as someone who wouldn’t be physically dangerous to a vulnerable population (women).
In actual fact, as you might guess from a company started by a guy ignorantly inspired by a legacy of apartheid and his Wall Street banker partner… Lyft has been widely implicated in systemic victimization of women.
A single SF driver repeatedly attacked women over five years before police managed to track him down. That’s just one of thousands of ride-share incidents.
“Lyft has been aware of the staggering number of assaults and rapes that occur in their vehicles for years. They continue to conceal those numbers from the public and Lyft customers,” Bomberger said in a statement. “That is not a commitment to safety. It is a commitment to profits.”
Obviously the company has totally obliterated their origin story now, never mention Africa or the white “safety” angle, downplay the big lips, and play like it was just something they thought of traveling around California.
It may be important to revisit the origin story, however, as researchers looking at the decision algorithms continue to reveal racism in these ride-sharing platforms.
…fares tended to be higher for drop-offs in Chicago neighborhoods with high non-white populations…