Lyft Line: A Product Management Case Study

A Lift Line Adventure In The Bay Area

I recently took a trip to the Bay Area, and was silly enough to think that I could just use ride sharing to get around. For a trip staying only in San Francisco, that’s doable, but for last minute plans to get around Palo Alto, Cupertino, San Jose, maybe not so much. My mistake, lesson learned, but I did notice a particularly frustrating user experience issue with Lyft Line.

Lyft Line is a service to share your ride with others going along the same route. Normally I’ve used this service without issue, but did run into a particular edge case which seems poorly supported by the current app.

A Last Minute Change

After booking a ride, and just before our first co-rider was dropped off, we changed plans to meet our friends for dinner at a place about 20 minutes closer to us. It was still on the way, so we thought – no big deal, we can change the dropoff point, maybe with a little fee or something, right? Wrong. No Dice. Return to Go and do not collect 200$. 

After a minute or two of frantic tapping and swiping to find any way to change the dropoff or cancel the ride, we gave up and asked the driver, but the driver and passenger aren’t allowed to change or cancel the ride! Once you book, you’re stuck – better hope you get it right the first time. In the meantime, the driver was also assigned to pick up a new co-rider, complicating things even more.

Roll With It

We weren’t left with much choice, so in the end we convinced the driver and remaining passenger that our new stop was on the way and to drop us off there instead, with no idea of what would happen in Lyft’s system. Worst case – we would have to pay the full price of the ride and maybe the driver would have to get close to our original destination to mark our dropoff. But it turns out Lyft’s system is smart enough to know that my GPS location was no longer aligned with the drivers and (presumably) let him mark us as dropped off. Great! Also, we got refund for the shorter trip location dropoff – even better! So everything worked out but we didn’t have any way to know what would happen.

The Problem

Allowing users to change a destination mid-trip is a challenging problem and is probably a rare occurrence, but in situations where it happens, it can cause a lot of stress to the customer. Contacting customer service would not resolve the issue fast enough, and for those that have to face the problem with limited time, there are only a few choices:

  1. get out at the current location and book a new trip
    • Costs more and takes more time, or
  2. convince the driver (and co-riders) to drop you at your intended location and hope for the best
    • Complex situation that can cause conflict, or
  3. continue on to the end and book a new trip
    • Costs more and takes more time.

It’s not necessarily a priority feature on a product manager’s hit list, but for the sake of analysis, let’s take a look at it.

Potential Solutions

The solutions may be messy because it involves multiple parties: Lyft, driver, rider, co-rider. Lyft and the driver wants to maximize customer satisfaction and make a profit, while the rider and co-rider want to get to their locations. Given that the riders have chosen to take Lyft Line, assume they are more price sensitive than time-sensitive. However, it would be reasonable to expect the rider initiating the change to accept additional fees due to the last minute change. Additionally, ride changers may be more likely to tip higher, both as a courtesy or it could be used as an incentive for co-rider to accept the change.

The first situation would be to allow change of destination or change of the ride to a standard Lyft ride when there is no co-rider. There could be a fee for changing destinations, or it could be an adjustment for the new destination.

If there is a co-rider present, the change could be allowed with a potential fee, and with limitation that the change has to be within a limited deviation impact to the remaining co-rider. Alternatively the rider requesting the change could cancel their current trip at a nearby point and re-book another Lyft. This could need coordination and approval from the driver and co-rider.

If there is a co-rider scheduled, Lyft could potentially reschedule the co-rider to another driver or proceed as planned with modification noted above.

Penciling Out The Numbers

If we assume a 5$ destination change fee, let’s see how the numbers look, starting with facts and assumptions:

  • Lyft has 1 million rides a day.
  • 60% of Lyft rides are Lyft Line.
  • Assume 5% of Lyft Line rides need a change in plans.
  • Assume a flat 5$ fee for a ride change
  • Assume refund or add the difference in fare, depending on new destination distance.
  • 365 days * 1M (Lyft rides) * 0.6 (% Lyft Line rides) *0.05 (% Lyft Lines changed) * 5$ = $5.48M in potential revenue.
  • If Lyft only takes their 20% fee and passes the difference to the driver and co-rider, that would be $5.48M *0.2 = $1.1M for Lyft.
  • The driver and co-rider could each get 2$ of the fee, more or less.

Worth it? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, the user experience should provide the riders with more information.

What Would Need To Change?

The Lyft driver app as well as the passenger app would have to be updated to add this functionality. UI mockups to follow, but their functions should include:

Passenger App

  • Request destination change
  • Request conversion to standard Lyft
  • Request ride cancellation
  • Updated pricing calculation and approval dialog
  • New destination picker
  • Ride modification request and benefit alert to driver and co-rider
  • Ride modification request approval dialog for driver and co-rider
  • Updated ride request for scheduled Lyft riders

Driver App

  • Destination change dialog
  • Conversion to standard Lyft dialog
  • Temporarily hold ride requests between request and response



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