Lyft President John Zimmer Hopes to Appeal to Rideshare Customers' Values

Zimmer hopes his company's friendlier public image will help attract more customers.

AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File

In an era when seemingly anything can be politicized, consumers will vote with their wallets and choose products and services based on the values of the companies offering them—at least, that's what Lyft president John Zimmer hopes.

"We're woke. Our community is woke, and the U.S. population is woke," Zimmer said in an interview with TIME (which, full disclosure, is a sibling publication of The Drive) at Lyft's San Francisco headquarters. Zimmer hopes that projecting the right image will help Lyft surpass archival Uber and become the nation's top ridesharing service.

The contrast with Uber that Lyft hopes to promote became apparent in January, when President Donald Trump signed the first version of a controversial immigration order covering seven Muslim-majority countries. That weekend, Zimmer and Lyft CEO Logan Green announced a $1 million donation to the American Civil Liberties Union.

At the same time, Uber was mired in bad publicity. When New York City taxi drivers went on strike and protestors massed at the city's JFK airport, Uber sent out a tweet noting that the company was still offering rides to JFK, without surge pricing. The move was seen as a way to profit from the situation, and birthed the hashtag #DeleteUber. Uber later explained that the tweet was simply meant to let customers know that rides were still available, and that surge pricing was cut so that it wouldn't profit from the strike.

But that isn't the only public-relations crisis Uber has faced in recent months. CEO Travis Kalanick was criticized for sitting on President Trump's business advisory council, and for a video in which he berates an Uber driver. Uber has also faced accusations of sexism from a female engineer, and of trying to deceive government officials with so-called "greyball" software. An Uber self-driving car was also involved in a crash this week, although the test fleet is back on the road after a brief suspension.

After #DeleteUber started trending in January, about 5 percent of Uber's market share shifted to Lyft, according to TXN Solutions, which which tracks debit- and credit card spending. Zimmer estimates that Lyft now has 40 percent of the market share in multiple U.S. markets. Yet the five-year-old company is still playing catchup with Uber, which has had more time to grow its influence.