[By JOE RUBINO]
Lyft cars are everywhere these days, ferrying users of the company’s immensely popular app from Point A to Point B all across the Denver metro area. Now, the ride-hailing tech firm’s real estate footprint in one of its favorite markets is growing, too.
At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the company will cut the ribbon on a 20,000-square-foot driver center at 2930 S. Havana St. in Aurora. Part driver lounge, part auto garage, the center is designed to be a one-stop-shop providing information, support and maintenance to get and keep drivers on the road as much as they want to be, Lyft officials say.
“We’ve really torn up the model for how to do service and redesigned these service centers to function kind of like pit crews,” Gabe Cohen, Lyft’s regional director based in Denver, said. “The driver pulls in and the entire maintenance crew is working on their car. The goal is to get drivers in an out very quickly.”
The Aurora center had a soft opening for drivers in mid December. At the time it was just the fourth such facility Lyft had built. Many drivers, particularly in the Denver area rent vehicles through the company that are on maintenance schedules, but the company was dissatisfied with options it was finding to provide discount service for drivers who use their own vehicles.
“The driver has always been responsible for the upkeep of their vehicle and the role we play is to use our scale to negotiate discounts on their behalf,” Cohen said, noting Lyft works with company Openbay to help drivers access cheaper service.
With the driver center model at work in Aurora, not only can drivers expect discount work (just how discounted, company officials would not say) they also are coming to a place where the staff’s goal is the same as theirs: get the car back on the road ASAP.
Utilizing best practices pioneered by Toyota, the driver center today can use its three-lane garage system to service 22 cars per day, a figure that is expected to keep rising, said Chris Buller, Lyft’s head of vehicle service center operations. It doesn’t do collision work, but the Aurora center can handle work as complicated as a transmission replacement.
“Ninety percent of drivers are part-time. That means they are driving less than 20 hours a week. With that limited amount of time, any disruption is problematic,” Cohen said. “The interest of the driver center and the interest of the drivers are highly aligned because it’s part of the Lyft family.”
The center also has a large lounge area with Wifi, bathrooms and a coffee station. Company associates are on hand to sign up and certify new drivers, answer driver questions, resolve issues and provide information about Lyft programs such as the fleet of 200 rentable electric cars the company launched in Denver in November.
Art Heffron has been driving for Lyft since 2014, a time period that covers nearly 15,000 rides. It’s a part-time income that helps supplement what he makes through his photography business and work running the Strings & Wood concert series. In the past few years, Heffron has gone from using his own car to renting one through Lyft on days he drives, but he still remembers the headache of being out of commission for days at a time when his car would have an issue and he had to schedule service at a traditional shop.
He hasn’t gone through the maintenance side of things at the center yet, but Heffron visits the Aurora driver center every day he wants to pick up a fleet car and pick up riders. He likes the communal aspect of the space.
“It’s just nice to know what other drivers are doing,” he said. “It’s just nice to stop in there and say ‘Oh, you drive too? How’s it going today? What are your success stories?’ ”
The driver center does not impact the operations at the Lyft hub, which operates out of the Steam on the Platte building at 1401 Zuni St. in Denver. That space also offers driver on-boarding and information but doesn’t provide vehicle service.
As one might expect from a tech firm, Lyft used data when deciding where to put its driver center. Most rides end in downtown Denver, near the hub, but Aurora has the highest concentration of drivers’ home addresses, making it the most convenient place for a center dedicated to them, Cohen said.
To give the facility some homey touches, Lyft brought in artist Pat Milbery, known for his “Love this City” mural campaign in Denver, to create custom pieces inside and on the exterior of the driver center.
Cohen said the operation speaks to Lyft’s commitment to investing in the communities where it does business.
“We’re really proud to be making this investment in Aurora,” he said.