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Taco Bell’s Lyft promotion stinks worse than an old burrito

John Zimmer
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
John Zimmer

Last Tuesday Lyft announced a new promotional partnership with Taco Bell that has received harsh criticism from drivers and passengers. The addition of "Taco Mode"—giving passengers the ability to make Taco Bell an intermediate stop on the way to their destination—brings the first-ever "ride-thru" experience into the ride-share market. The program will be optional for drivers to participate in.

The announcement was initially met with excitement by riders eager to gratify their late-night munchies. But as the knee-jerk celebration faded, a spirit of genuine anger and concern flooded social media outlets from Lyft's family of users.

Drivers voiced glaring issues with the program, citing spilled food and lingering smells as a primary concern. Many drivers go to extreme lengths to keep their cars clean: washing and vacuuming daily, shaking out floor mats in between rides, and wiping down seats at the first sign of dirt. Drivers feel that Taco Mode will compromise their ability to give their passengers the ride-share experience they deserve.

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Drivers are further frustrated that waiting in long drive-thru lines at the busiest time of the night will cost them both time and money. Passengers could also suffer, as drivers being stuck in long lines will decrease ride availability and increase their wait time for a ride. These arguments make it difficult to see how Lyft's new partnership with Taco Bell will help capture market share from Uber, as fewer drivers will be available to meet passenger demand.

On a deeper level, passengers and drivers are concerned that the Taco Mode promotion is an early sign that Lyft has become less concerned with driver satisfaction. The promotion seems out of character for the company, which is renowned for its excellent treatment of drivers and hypersensitivity to their needs. This is illustrated by Lyft's recently enhanced in-app tipping option, which has now generated over $250 million for its drivers. Lyft also rewards drivers with weekly bonuses when they reach a certain number of rides. Lyft users expect a more enjoyable ride-share experience from the service, especially in the wake of Uber's executive scandals and reputation for disregarding driver satisfaction.

After receiving massive public backlash for the Taco Bell promotion, Lyft highlighted that Taco Mode will always be optional for drivers and that it is only conducting an initial rollout in Orange County, Calif. (The nationwide program is expected in 2018.) Though this seemed to curtail some displeasure, many drivers rightly recognized that passengers who get into cars not participating in the program may still expect the Taco Bell drive-thru option to be available. The promotion therefore compromises the drivers' control over their own cars as they try to avoid negative reviews from disgruntled, "hangry" passengers.

Passengers choose Lyft over other ride-share options because they believe in its mission and enjoy the culture it has created. Lyft has always succeeded in putting its drivers first so that its drivers can put their passengers first.

But passengers and drivers fear that this promotion could lead to further drastic changes in Lyft's ride-sharing system. As Lyft grows rapidly, it will need to be disciplined if it hopes to maintain the pleasant ride-share atmosphere it has cultivated for years. The backlash to Lyft's Taco Mode promotion has reminded the company and users alike: If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

Commentary by Eric Larson, an independent writer and Lyft driver. Follow him on Twitter @EricLarsonOrg.

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