Placed in the former Toys “R” Us building, the driver center is Lyft’s largest to date
Lyft drivers are about to get a new perk in San Diego, where the ride-hailing giant has opened a large facility for its workers to recharge from long days on the road.
The 35,000 square-foot “driver center” is mostly a tech-enabled auto shop, where drivers can get discounted maintenance and repair services for their vehicles. But the site is also furnished with comfortable lounge spots, snacks and Wi-Fi, giving drivers a place to take a break from their work.
The facility is in the former Toys “R” Us building at 1240 West Morena Blvd., but after Lyft’s remodel, it’s hardly recognizable. Designed to resemble a California tech office more than an auto shop, the driver center features red brick interiors, white subway tile and pastel pink fluorescent signs.
The exterior of the building has been painted a tech-typical color scheme — white and gray — with a custom mural by local artist Celeste Byers.
The local site employs about 20 people, including Lyft personnel who are on-site to help drivers with unfamiliar territories, like how to file taxes or how to respond to complicated encounters with passengers.
“Along with the vehicle services, we are also holding workshops on special topics like taxes and offering drivers access to associates to answer questions,” said Hao Meng, who serves as Southern California general manager.
The workshops are free for drivers.
Lyft’s competitor, Uber, has a similar offering called Uber Greenlight Locations, where people can get vehicle inspections to become drivers and in-person support. One such hub is in the pyramid building at 7310 Miramar Road. Some of these sites are in existing auto centers, like Jiffy Lube.
The San Diego Lyft driver center is the fifth such facility in the U.S. (and the largest open to date), with locations newly opened in Austin, Denver, Phoenix and San Francisco. In 2018, the company announced a planned $100 million investment in these driver centers, positioning the idea as a strategy to win over drivers from its competitor Uber.
But Lyft drivers often drive for both companies, using Lyft and Uber apps in tandem to maximize their opportunity to pick up passengers. A more likely explanation for the driver centers is a need to have physical hubs for drivers to connect with their employers, along with a secondary source of revenue for the tech company.
The Lyft driver centers are auto shops that do maintenance and routine services, such as oil changes, brake pad replacements, battery replacements, and tire rotations, among other services.
While drivers get the services at below-market prices as a perk, the services aren’t deeply discounted. A synthetic oil change, for example, costs drivers about $50 at the driver center, while San Diego’s average is closer to $80, Meng said.
Many tech companies that offer products primarily online are expanding into brick-and-mortar business (think Amazon’s bookstores, Peloton’s showrooms and Kate Hudson’s Fabletics stores). Lyft might just be dabbling in brick-and-mortar business, too. For now, the services are only available to Lyft drivers. But when asked if the services might one day be offered to the general public, Meng said that’s been part of Lyft’s conversation.
“We’re starting with catering the service for our drivers. Eventually, however, we could expand the offering to more of the general public,” Meng said.
The tech brand is a highly familiar one to young drivers, and the Lyft auto shops are equipped with tech-friendly services. Could the Lyft driver centers could become like Jiffy Lube for millennials?
Meng said the driver center roll-out is still in its early stages. While the company initially planned to open about 30 such sites, Lyft is pursuing that plan in phases.
“We are opening a few more this year, and then looking at whether it makes sense or not (to continue expanding the concept),” Meng said.
Lyft’s local driver center offers vehicle services Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Driver support is offered Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.