Lyft, a ride-sharing service that uses a smartphone app to match drivers and fares, rolled into Kansas City on Thursday.
The service, already set up in 36 metro areas, announced on its website that it was expanding into 24 others. A company official said Kansas City service officially started at 7 p.m.
Ride sharing services operate through local drivers who use their own cars to respond to ride requests transmitted through the company’s mobile app. Lyft’s cars stand out thanks to big pink mustaches drivers attach to the grill of their cars.
With competing services such as Uber and Sidecar, the ride share business has become popular in several metropolitan markets. The firms have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in financial backing, but they also have sparked controversy.
Thursday’s news of Lyft’s expansion to Kansas City drew a challenge from a Kansas City taxi company as well as interest from the city.
Bill George, chief executive of Kansas City Transportation Group, which operates Yellow Cab, called the company’s operation here “brazen.” He likened it to selling liquor out of a minivan on the street or serving meals from a food truck without submitting to health inspections.
“And ‘nobody can tell me what to do because the young folks love it,’ ” George said. “Do you know how ludicrous that sounds?”
George said he’d welcome competition that’s regulated similarly to his cabs, adding that his company already has apps to hail a cab.
A national taxi association also complained that ride share services don’t meet the regulatory requirements that most cities impose on taxi services. That means those companies escape expensive licensing fees as well as public reviews and inspections.
George estimated those costs as several hundred thousand dollars a year for his company.
Chris Hernandez, a spokesman for Kansas City, said, “Lyft drivers would need to be permitted to do this, and the company would have to be licensed.”
Hernandez said the fees likely would be similar to those charged taxicab drivers and companies.
Katie Dally, a Lyft spokeswoman, said in an email that Lyft officials were “reaching out to city leaders and look forward to working together.”
But she said the company, which began in San Francisco and operated in 36 markets before Thursday’s big expansion, doesn’t operate a taxi service and doesn’t charge fares but calculates “suggested donations.”
The company’s website described pricing as being based on the distance and length of time the ride takes, as well as a pickup fee and a “trust & safety fee.”
In Kansas City, for example, the website said the “price” of a ride would be $1.80 per mile and 50 cents per minute, with a $1.80 pickup fee and $1 trust and safety fee. Other markets showed different prices.
Uber, which doesn’t operate in Kansas City, has gotten complaints for its practice of raising prices during a surge in demand. Lyft similarly declares “Prime Time” when ride requests “greatly outnumber” available drivers, according to its website. Its suggested price then goes up, but all of the added “tip” goes to the driver.
Lyft also drops prices during slow times, which it calls “Happy Hour,” and cuts prices at least 10 percent.
The company’s regular prices posted for Kansas City were higher than Lyft posted for rides in St. Louis, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, Denver and Memphis.
But they’re lower than city-regulated Yellow Cab charges in Kansas City. Its fares are $2.10 a mile and 90 cents a minute waiting in traffic, plus a $2.50 pickup fee.
Taxi services in Kansas City are required to post their rate cards in full view of passengers.
Dally said in Kansas City all riders will receive two weeks of free rides as part of Lyft’s launch promotion.
That will give time for drivers and passengers to size each other up. Lyft’s app allows passengers to rate drivers and drivers to rate passengers.
“If you rate someone three stars or below, you’ll never be matched with them again,” the website said. It also said drivers with an average rating below 4.5 out of 5 stars would not be able to continue driving for Lyft.
Dave Sutton, a spokesman for the national “Who’s Driving You?” campaign sponsored by the Taxi, Limousine and Para Transit Association, said Lyft and similar operations should come under the same scrutiny as taxi services.
“City officials should recognize Lyft for what it is — unlicensed, poorly insured and a threat to public safety — and take back the streets,” Sutton said in an email.
Lyft’s website included information about insurance coverage the company carries and the background checks it performs on drivers. The site said the company performs vehicle inspections “in person, so we can examine everything from tail lights to tire tread.”
Dally said the company already had lined up drivers in Kansas City.
“Lyft drivers are rigorously vetted, must pass criminal background and DMV driving record checks, go through a vehicle inspection and more,” she said.
The company said its drivers must be at least 23 and use a car that is a model year 2000 or newer.
Alex Shapiro, 24, a Lyft driver in the Los Angeles area, said he went through all of that and then went on a “mentor ride” with one of Lyft’s highly rated drivers.
“A few days later I had my mustache in the mail,” Shapiro said.
A driver since November, Shapiro now does mentor rides with new applicants.
Lyft is privately owned and recently raised funding from two New York hedge funds and the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, according to The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper said Lyft had raised more than $330 million so far and that its rival Uber had raised $405 million.