Going local: Inside Lyft’s push to integrate with N.J. businesses, nonprofits

It is the age-old question of business:

How does one grow and strengthen a brand to become the undeniable choice for consumers? Especially when you are in competition with the best-known brand in the sector.

Lyft New Jersey thinks it’s by joining the “local” movement.

“Having teams on the ground in local markets is how we invest in the long-term growth and sustainability of a region,” Eric Plummer, market manager of Lyft New Jersey, said. “In New Jersey, for example, we have nearly 20 individuals completely focused on the state, helping to figure out all the unique facets that make our business work better here versus anywhere else.”

With offices in Hoboken, driver service centers in Paterson and Jersey City and an Express Drive rental car location in Matawan, New Jersey is a sizable market for Lyft — and certainly a top priority market for growth, Plummer said.

“As an active member of the New Jersey business community, one of Lyft’s goals is to strengthen partnerships with local organizations,” he added. “We therefore always look for innovative and unique partnerships to help us both position ourselves and our partners in new and interesting ways.”

Lyft also looks to give back as much as possible, with 35 percent of rides starting or ending in low-income areas.

“That is why we currently are trying to scale programs such as Grocery Access,” Plummer said.

Grocery Access is an Atlantic City-focused partnership with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and supermarkets such as ShopRite of Absecon, which provides $5 rides to and from grocery shopping.

“We also give $1,000 each month to a nonprofit in New Jersey to help support them in whatever their transportation needs are,” Plummer said.

As part of Lyft’s Relief Rides program, Lyft New Jersey has been providing community grants to nonprofits since December 2017, giving them $1,000 in ride credits for transportation to crucial services including housing, health care and employment.

Grant recipients have included the International Rescue Committee in Elizabeth, a leader in emergency relief, resettlement services and advocacy for refugees; Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, a charitable organization that provides 4,800 free meals per week to people in need; the Vets Chat and Chew Program in Fort Lee, which focuses on nutritional psychology over meals for veterans and active military personnel; and Heartworks, a Basking Ridge-based acts of kindness group for people suffering from illness, injury or grief.

Lyft’s mission to get people to where they need to be works elsewhere to improve the state, too.

As a result of Lyft, 34 percent of New Jersey riders spend more at local businesses; 50 percent explore more areas of their city; and 33 percent are more likely to attend community events.

That is why Lyft works to create passenger programs such as New Jersey Beach Pass, which allows summer weekend riders to travel to and from New Jersey beaches for fixed rates.

“One of the biggest benefits of living in New Jersey is access to all of our coastline,” Plummer said. “We want to help drive down car traffic while helping people get to and from these areas more easily.”

On weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day, a group of riders can travel to Monmouth and Ocean County beaches from Jersey City, Hoboken and Newark for $80, and to Atlantic City and Cape May County shores from Philadelphia for $110.

It is these long rides, Plummer said, when people often learn more about who Lyft drivers are.

“People are Lyft drivers one hour and ‘insert here’ the next, as we work with everyone from computer scientists to musicians to lawyers,” he said. “And, with many of our drivers belonging to an immigrant population, we want to be able to help them not only be good Lyft drivers but also to work toward the futures they want to have.”

That is why Lyft New Jersey recently partnered with Duolingo to give drivers access to more than 80 courses in over 30 languages.

“Drivers in New Jersey have told us they’d benefit from access to this type of program, as many are English language learners, with Spanish, Bengali and French being their top three primary languages,” Plummer said.

Lyft New Jersey also plans to expand its vehicle service centers and Express Drive services in the state, which allows drivers to rent cars without a lease or long-term contract for as low as $44 by giving at least 120 rides per week.

The more rides a driver gives, the less a car rental costs, Plummer said.

“We want to help drivers with their vehicles as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible,” he added.

Lyft New Jersey also is committed to effecting positive change in the state by offsetting carbon emissions and promoting transportation equity through shared rides, bikeshare systems, electric scooters and public transit partnerships, Plummer said.

“The idea is to make Lyft a one-stop shop to figure out one’s mobility needs in New Jersey,” he added.

In New Jersey, 49 percent of Lyft riders do not own or lease a personal vehicle, with 65 percent stating that Lyft has impacted their decision not to. In fact, 47 percent of vehicle owners in New Jersey said they use their cars less because of Lyft.

That is why expanding CitiBike partnerships and in-app New Jersey Transit integration is next on Lyft’s to-do list to help better diversify the transportation network in the state, Plummer said.

“We are willing, interested and exciting to partner with entities in the state to help grow each other’s businesses and we are focused on helping people move more easily through the state they call home,” he said.