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Lyft, GM partner to offer new car leases for drivers

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You can barely stand on a street corner in LA without seeing an Uber or Lyft drive by. But that observation disguises another reality.

You can barely stand on a street corner in LA without seeing an Uber or Lyft drive by. But that observation disguises another reality.

In the first eight months of the year, almost 18,000 Angelenos applied to drive for Lyft but weren’t accepted, either because they didn’t have a car or didn’t have a car that met the company’s requirements.

This week, those wannabe Lyft drivers have another option. Through a partnership with General Motors called Express Drive, they can lease one on the cheap or even for free if they give enough rides.

"One of the pain points we have is applicants who show up and are eager to drive, but their car just is not up to what we require," said Derek Kan, Lyft general manager. "So it’s not ten years old or less, it’s in poor working condition, and as a result they don’t have access to a vehicle. So this program allows folks to get into something to drive for us."

Through Lyft's new Express Drive program, Lyft applicants now have the option of leasing a GM vehicle for $150 to $180 per week, including insurance—or for free, if they give at least 75 rides in a week.

"What’s appealing to me is that I get the use of a car essentially for free as long as I get 75 rides, then there’s no cost to me other than the gas and cleaning the car," said Mark Spillman, a 52-year-old father of triplet teens who has been driving for Lyft since April and began using Express Drive last Friday as part of its soft launch in LA.

"I don’t have to do any maintenance. I don’t have to take it in," Spillman said. "If there’s a problem, I just call GM or call OnStar and I get a fairly new car and I don’t have to keep looking down at the odometer and worrying about how I’m going to pay for all that mileage."

Spillman, 52, has already maxed out the allowable miles on his 2015 Mazda6 lease, driving 1,000 each week for Lyft.

Express Drive is the first service resulting from GM's $500 million investment in Lyft earlier this year. It is one of several car-sharing programs offered through General Motors' Maven personal mobility service. Maven also offers a car-sharing service that allows drivers to rent a car by the hour, day or week. Currently available in Chicago and Boston, that car-sharing service will expand to LA this fall.

Drivers apply for Express Drive through the Lyft app. If they do not own an eligible vehicle, applicants are asked if they would like to rent a car through GM, which is currently offering two mid-size sedan options: the Malibu and Impala. The sedans were selected for their combination of interior room, trunk space (for airport pickups) and fuel economy. Within a few months, GM will also also offer its compact Cruze sedan, the plug-in hybrid electric Volt and all-electric Bolt subcompact.

The weekly leases are $150 or $180 per week and include insurance, maintenance and mileage while driving for Lyft. Drivers have to pay for gas and 25 cents per mile for mileage accrued when they aren’t driving the car for Lyft.

"Right now, I don’t have a car, but driving for Lyft is also working and being able to have your own vehicle," said Nicole Estrada, 23, of Echo Park. "It really helps us out with transportation and finances at the same time."

Estrada is a college student who has never owned a car. She says she takes the bus everywhere, including to her part-time job at Ralph's, but she's eager to drive for Lyft for the flexibility and higher pay. Lyft drivers who log 40 hours per week often earn $1,000.

Lyft offers a similar rental program through the rental company, Hertz. Launched in LA five weeks ago at Hertz rental locations in West Hollywood, Pico Rivera and Costa Mesa, cars available to Lyft drivers also cost $150 to $180 weekly depending on the vehicle. But Hertz rentals for Lyft drivers do not waive the weekly rental fee after 75 trips. Mileage is, however, included for free regardless of whether the car is driven for Lyft or personal use.

But there's a catch.

"You need to be 21 years old to get onto the Lyft platform but you need to be 25 years old to usually rent a car with a rental car company, so what we’re finding is a lot of folks between the ages of 21 and 25 who may be in college or who may not be in college but are really looking for another job or source of income," said Lyft's GM, Derek Kan. "They are lining up for this program."

How many people have lined up, Kan wouldn't say. But the line is "very long," he said. More people have expressed interest in Express Drive than there are cars available at present.

LA is the only the latest city to offer Express Drive. The service was launched in March and is also available in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. A handful of other cities will join the program before the end of the year.

General Motors isn’t the only auto maker to partner with a ride-hailing service. Earlier this year,
Toyota partnered with Uber, which itself has a ride-hailing partnership with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Volkswagen also partnered with the ride-hailing service Gett.

But Lyft's Express Drive service with GM marks the first time an auto maker is making its vehicles directly available to ride-hail drivers.

To listen to this story, click the blue audio player above.

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