SAN FRANCISCO — Lyft is shaving its ‘stache.
The ride-hailing service announces Tuesday that come December, drivers will begin replacing the company’s dash-mounted glowing pink mustache — dubbed the Glowstache — with an interactive cylindrical gadget called the Amp, so named because it is meant to amplify each Lyft ride.
“We went through many different shapes and models, and what we’ve ended up with has the fun of the Glowstache while adding a new in-car experience,” Lyft co-founder John Zimmer tells USA TODAY. “We want to treat drivers and passengers better.”
He means better than the competition, which would be Uber.
That cross-town rival has also been making changes to its service, from offering its contractor drivers access to online retirement planning services to a recent app reboot that providers riders with what CEO Travis Kalanick called “in-flight entertainment.”
Lyft, meanwhile, allows passengers the option of tipping after a ride, which Zimmer says leads to 10% higher earnings for its drivers.
Although the company says it welcomed 1 million new riders last month, Lyft continues to face pressure from its larger rival. Uber has secured some $15 billion in funding at a valuation of $68 billion. Lyft has raised $2 billion at a valuation of $5.5 billion, a sliver of Uber’s haul.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has said that he hopes to put off an initial public offering for some time. For Lyft, reports have surfaced that the service was shopping itself around.
Notwithstanding these differences, both are still dealing with some basics of ride-hailing — getting the customer cheaply and quickly from A to B. Some seven years into the ride-hailing phenomenon, one issue that has vexed players is making sure riders and drivers find each other.
Often the only sign that a pedestrian could be waiting for a ride is a tightly clutched cell phone (studying the vehicle’s approach). Uber recently sought to solve for this problem with a revamped app that offers customers a choice of curbside pickup locations, in addition to the continued option of dropping a map pin in a location of their choosing.
While the Glowstache merely signaled to a waiting rider that the approaching vehicle was a Lyft car, the Amp’s mission is to eliminate any confusion that can occur at the moment of pick-up.
The outward facing screen of the Amp, which is shaped like a Beats Pill speaker, can change from pink to a custom color that matches a hue on the rider’s Lyft app; if two Lyft rides happen to pull up on the same corner, you’ll know which car is yours via the device’s color.
Once a rider enters the vehicle, the backside of Amp will spell out a personal greeting, further confirming you’re in the right car.
Zimmer says the company will continue to explore ways in which the Amp can add a personalized feel to a Lyft ride.
“One idea is that say the (Golden State) Warriors win, then in San Francisco the Amp can turn blue and gold,” he says. “Or if it’s New Year’s Eve, maybe it has a celebratory feel.”
The Amp looks rudimentary, almost a throwback to a taxi’s dome light. Amp will glow pink when a driver is on the road, but switch to a passenger’s custom color about a mile before the pick-up spot.
“We’ve been on this for a year and a half, and at one point had something baton-shaped called The Wand,” says Ethan Eyler, who heads the rider experience team and was behind the original pink ‘stache.
As 21st-century tech devices go, Amp remains rather rudimentary. But that’s by design. Lyft’s approach stands in contrast to Uber’s, whose new app encourages riders to put their heads down and peruse UberEats options or Pandora music details during the ride.
“We want people to engage with each other,” says Zimmer. “Lots of companies are sucking people into their app. But we’ve got a divided country, so human interaction is more important than ever.”
“In the end we went back to wanting to the own the space on the dash,” he says. “And the Amp also looks a bit like a rear-view mirror from inside, to that felt like a good fit.”