Lyft Embraces Consumer Subscriptions

Lyft is reportedly testing consumer subscriptions for rides in several price ranges designed to get people to skip using a personal car. Trips included in the subscription must be for distances that cost less than $15 for non-subscribers, according to Mashable. You can check how far you can get for $15 using the Lyft Fare Estimator.

Subscribers whose rides cost more than $15 would receive discounts of $15 off longer rides. Lyft’s target audience is the urban and suburban consumer who would instead leave their car at home.  Some of the offers made to users featured a monthly $199 plan that includes 30 rides (Las Vegas) while others received up-front payment offers for seven rides for $50 and $400 for 60 trips. 

Lyft is taking this model seriously. It may provide the kind of simple calculation that consumers can adopt when they compare the cost of using a car to get around town in a Lyft. The subscription model, which expires monthly, may look like the better deal.

But “breakage,” the write-off of unused service each month, could result in substantial revenue for Lyft that consumers see as lost value because they spend the money without getting the benefit of rides. There is no way for consumers to squeeze every cent of value out of the system without assiduously scheduling rides up to, but not over, the Lyft limits.

Breakage is a familiar pricing model in online services. For example, Dropbox For Business Standard costs $12.50/mo./user for two TB storage. However, most users won’t store anywhere near two TB of data in Dropbox, creating breakage that can be worth up to $10 a month to the company. That difference between the storage capacity paid for and what is used — the breakage – subsidizes the free Dropbox offer of two GB for that draws in paid users. Lyft is taking a page from an old playbook, and it is likely to work.

Up-front pricing, such as $400 for 60 rides, preserves the rider’s spending for actual use. But these steeper prices can be designed to push consumers to the more profitable breakage model. 

While Uber has started to build its car service into consumer product and personal services programs, such as its partnership with bgx, a salon company that will send a stylist via Uber to the customer or ferry the customer to a salon, Lyft is focused on a more tangible feature, the consumer’s budget. Uber’s approach will drive costs toward service providers who bundle mobility while Lyft’s will insulate ride

This marks a significant moment in the mobility wars. It shifts the convenience value proposition toward a price-based value proposition.  Lyft’s subscription model makes choosing to forgo owning a car for people who need some rides in an urban area a simple matter of budgeting. Choosing to spend $199 a month to have a car available or trips of four or five miles, which approximates most urban travel needs, is more straightforward than buying, parking, servicing, and fueling a car. 

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Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.