Rideshare company Lyft contributed $11 million to the San Antonio economy in 2017 and saved local drivers 500,000 travel hours. That’s according to the economic impact study Lyft released Tuesday based on surveys conducted with Lyft drivers and passengers in San Antonio.

The rideshare company’s new report intends to demonstrate how Lyft is growing in San Antonio and affecting local consumer spending, travel patterns, and the driver community.

“The ability to connect people and business in the community … To give people access to businesses, continue to invest in their cities – really, that’s what this is showing,” said Janet Peavy, Lyft Market Manager for San Antonio.

Fifty-four percent of San Antonio passengers surveyed say they use their personal vehicle less because of Lyft, according to the report. More than half of the survey respondents reported using Lyft to commute to work, and 25 percent use Lyft to get around when public transit does not operate.

One-third of all rides start in parts of town considered “low-income areas,” as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Yet 48 percent of passengers say the service allows them to spend more at local businesses.

Lyft was founded in June 2012 and is currently available to 95 percent of the U.S. population. Company co-founder and President John Zimmer said in October that Lyft had delivered its 500-millionth ride.

One year ago, Lyft announced plans to expand to another 300 U.S. cities by the end of 2017. Peavy said the company currently operates in 52 metropolitan regions.

The rideshare company, which reports having 1.4 million drivers on the platform, has been gaining on rival Uber every year, according to The Rideshare Guy blog. Industry insiders estimate that three-fourths of all rideshare drivers use both Uber and Lyft platforms, but participate on one more actively than the other. But, according to a report by Second Measure, a research firm that uses anonymized credit card data, Lyft has stolen market share from Uber in 2017.

Peavy said Lyft released results of the economic impact study, conducted by the Land Econ Group, to let the community know how it is connecting people.

Lyft’s survey of San Antonio showed 68 percent of the drivers here are the primary earners for their household, even though most – 96 percent – drive less than 20 hours per week. Sixty-three percent identify with a minority group and 18 percent are veterans.

Those figures align closely with survey results in both Austin and Dallas, with slightly fewer drivers there being veterans.

Larry Stewart, 69, began driving with Lyft and Uber 18 months ago, fitting four to five hours of driving in between his primary job in real estate.

“It’s what I use to support my expensive ham [amateur] radio hobby,” he said. “I’m not doing it to pay my rent. I never thought I’d be doing anything like that, but it surprises me how much I’m enjoying it.”

Stewart would not reveal how much he makes as a rideshare driver, but said it gives him opportunity to network and he’s turned some passengers into real estate clients. Nationwide, Lyft drivers earned $3.9 billion, not including tips, last year.

In 2016, amid concerns for public safety and opposition from local taxi companies, San Antonio’s City Council reinstated rideshare after years of heated debate and lobbying, approving a first-of-its-kind agreement that required rideshare companies to provide passengers with the ability to see whether drivers have taken an optional 10-fingerprint background check with the City.

Stewart said he supports that effort, but has yet to do it himself. “I think the public has a right to the greatest comfort zone they can get,” he said.

Regulations for ride-hailing platforms led to proposed revisions for traditional taxi and limousine rules locally.

Some say the public also deserves access to the traffic and use data generated through rideshare technology. This data, according to some urban planners and researchers, is useful for transportation and infrastructure planning. Some cities, like New York, already collect data from traditional taxi companies for planning purposes.

But many cities have had a tougher time working out such deals with private rideshare companies that are reluctant to share data they consider proprietary.

Lyft has yet to make any of its data public. Peavy said Lyft has no plans to release data from this study or any other to the City. Uber Movement, a data platform offered by Uber, currently makes its anonymized data publicly accessible.

Some cities have found a way around that. In 2017, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority worked with researchers at Northeastern University to develop a way to collect data from rideshare companies. By creating hundreds of Lyft and Uber accounts throughout the city, researchers were able to count the number of available rideshare cars nearby using the apps. These estimates are accumulated in an online data explorer that monitors rideshare traffic in the city.

In June 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 100, placing the regulation of rideshare companies in the State’s hands, after several Texas cities including Austin and Houston implemented regulations requiring fingerprint checks on rideshare drivers.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.

Emily Royall

Emily Royall is the Rivard Report's former data director.