Lyft unveiled an online store last week to provide drivers with safety gear to better protect themselves during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Drivers pay for the equipment, but Lyft says it won’t make a profit on any sales.

Lyft’s partner will operate the online shop and add a small markup. The ride-hailing company didn’t say which company was supplying the personal protective equipment (PPE) and operating the store. But after a series of tips from readers, CNET identified the partner as Canadian military defense contractor Mission Ready Solutions.

Lyft confirmed on Monday that it’s working with Mission Ready, which counts the US Departments of Defense and Homeland Security as customers. “[Mission Ready] has a diversified supply chain that better positions them to cover two large hurdles to obtaining PPE during a global pandemic — accessibility and cost,” a company spokeswoman said in an email.

The ride-hailing company’s partnership with Mission Ready is another example of military contractors pivoting during the coronavirus pandemic. As the virus has careened around the world, all types of companies have shifted focus to manufacturing and distributing PPE and medical equipment. The defense company Material Resources is now making face shields and General Electric, GM and Philips have all been working on ventilators.

Mission Ready is known for manufacturing body armor and tactical gear and has worked with US Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, as well as law enforcement agencies. The defense contractor will operate the Lyft Store website and stock it with equipment from its “extensive supplier network and its third-party logistics provider.” Mission Ready will also be in charge of shipping the PPE directly to drivers.

“When you’re talking about peoples’ health and wellbeing, there’s no room for error,” Mission Ready CEO Jeffery Schwartz said in a statement. “We will continue to establish procedures to identify and proactively mitigate any potential challenges so that drivers receive the protection they need, when they need it.”

On June 1, a press release from the Canadian company announced a deal with a “leading transportation company” to “manage the sale of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.” The release didn’t name Lyft, but rather said the San Francisco-based company had “requested to remain anonymous.”

The Deep Dive, a Canadian investing site, did a little digging and noticed a few weeks later that the terms of service on Lyft’s online store said it’s being “operated solely” by Mission Ready.

Eric Schiffer, a brand management expert and CEO of private equity firm Patriarch Organization, questioned why Lyft requested to remain anonymous.

“If you’re going to enter into a business relationship, you should feel good about who your partner is,” Schiffer said. “The fact that they are clandestine suggests that it deserves greater scrutiny.”

As to why it wished to remain anonymous, Lyft said it wanted to wait until all drivers had access to the store before a public announcement.

On the Lyft Store, drivers can buy plastic partitions to put between the front and back seats for around $50. Reusable cloth face masks sell for $1.92 and packs of 50 disposable face masks for $26.50. A 10-ounce pump of hand sanitizer gel costs $4.92 and a 32-ounce canister of disinfectant is $6.59. Other types of sanitizer and disinfectant are also available.

“Lyft and [Mission Ready] worked collaboratively with the express goal of bringing the lowest possible prices to drivers,” the Lyft spokeswoman said. “We continually monitor the market to ensure our prices are as competitive as possible.”

Many Lyft drivers aren’t happy about having to purchase PPE, however. Jerome Gage, a Los Angeles-based driver, told CNET last week that charging drivers for basic safety equipment during a global pandemic is “shameful.”

Uber is also providing drivers with PPE , though it isn’t charging. The company has partnered with cleaning and chemical companies, including Clorox and Zep, for sanitizers and disinfectants. And it’s partnered with manufacturers in China for face masks.

The one-year agreement between Lyft and Mission Ready was signed on May 31 and started on June 1.

*by Dara Kerr via CNET*