The Tesla Model S is among the black cars approved for Lyft’s new Lyft Lux service, the company’s new top-tier ride-hailing service. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)
Lyft is introducing a black car service Thursday in five American cities, including Chicago — the same type of service Uber launched with in 2010.
Lyft Lux and Lyft Lux SUV are the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company’s newest and most expensive tiers of service. Riders in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose can use the Lyft app to request luxury rides — at luxury prices.
Riders already had access to a high-end tier called Lyft Premier, but the company said this will be a step above that, with a more exclusive collection of vehicles.
David Katcher, general manager of Lyft’s Midwest operations, positioned the move as a response to customer demand.
"The competition has this and we’ve heard it from passengers ourselves that this is something that they desire," he said.
Uber, Lyft’s main competitor, started with black car rides and later added lower-priced tiers. Lyft is expanding its offerings in the reverse order.
Volume isn’t the goal with the Lux tier — it’s making sure Lyft offers enough types of service that users don’t turn to competitors for rides.
"Our hope is we have services for folks for every single use case," Katcher said. "So if they’re deciding they want a ride, they can absolutely default to Lyft and we’ll have the service that they need."
Katcher said Lyft Lux rides will cost 3 to 4 times a basic Lyft fare, and 1.5 to 2 times a Lyft Premier fare. Lyft Lux SUV rides will be "slightly higher" than that, he said, though he did not share details.
For reference, a ride from Michigan and Wacker to O’Hare Airport would cost about $35 in a regular Lyft, about $28 in a shared Lyft Line and about $64 in a Lyft Premier. The same ride in a Lyft Lux would cost about $92, and about $115 in the larger Lyft Lux SUV.
Katcher said drivers will be compensated more for Lyft Lux rides since it costs more for them to maintain higher-end cars and they are providing a luxury service. He declined to say how many Lux-eligible drivers there are in Chicago, but said there was a "big contingent" and that riders can reasonably expect to get a Lux ride anywhere in Chicago starting Thursday.
Vehicle qualifications for the Lux services are stricter than for Lyft Premier: The list of approved vehicles is shorter and includes makes including Maserati and Rolls-Royce. Cars must have black exteriors and leather or leather-like seats. Makes including BMW and Jaguar appear on both lists, with fewer models and model years eligible for Lux. A minimum 4.7 star rating from passengers is a prerequisite for driving at the Lux and Premier tiers.
Drivers of luxury vehicles can also opt to make themselves available at lower tiers, Katcher said. They may choose do to this if there aren’t enough requests for Lux rides.
Katcher said there are some Lyft drivers who offer ultra-luxury cars such as Maseratis and Rolls-Royces but declined to say how many there are and where they’re located.
Lyft intends Lux to be on par with the high-end black car service most riders may choose for special occasions, such as transporting clients, nights out on the town or airport rides, Katcher said.