Lyft on Thursday became the second ride-hailing service to enter the New Orleans market, announcing plans to operate throughout the metropolitan area whether or not local governments sign off.
The service joins Uber, which has been operating in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish since last year.
The entry of a new app-based ride service, which competes with traditional taxi services by connecting riders with amateur drivers using their own vehicles, could exacerbate complaints cabbies have been raising about Uber in New Orleans and extend legal battles about whether the companies are allowed to operate in the suburbs.
Lyft got approval from the city to operate this week, receiving the permits required under an ordinance passed last spring that legalizes ride-hailing services. Lyft and Uber were both involved in discussions with the New Orleans City Council and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration in which those rules were hammered out.
Nationwide, Lyft has about 315,000 drivers. It seeks to distinguish itself from Uber by highlighting policies it says benefit drivers more than other ride-hailing services and promote a sense of community among its users.
The attitude of New Orleans “seems to fit really well with the mission of the company. It’s very friendly, very welcoming, very hospitable,” said Jaime Raczka, the general manager of early stage markets for Lyft.
While Uber started operating in New Orleans shortly after the regulations were passed, Lyft has been absent from the local market until now.
When the City Council passed the new rules, Lyft representatives argued against insurance requirements they imposed, saying the insurance industry needed time to develop products tailored to the ride-hailing market.
It is not clear whether those objections caused the company to forgo the New Orleans market last year or if changes to the insurance landscape prompted its decision to come to southeast Louisiana at this time.
“We just really wanted to make sure that we had built the driver base and had the resources,” Raczka said. “We’re focused on growth and momentum as a company, and I think it made the most sense for us to launch when we did.”
But that launch could prompt new legal challenges to ride-hailing services in the area.
Lyft’s coverage map includes not just the city itself but also Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, none of which have rules that allow such companies to operate.
Company officials said they will not yet pick up or drop off passengers at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, which is still working on rules governing ride-hailing services.
In Jefferson Parish, officials filed a suit to stop Uber’s operations at the urging of traditional cab drivers, but they now are negotiating with the company while allowing it to operate.
Taxi drivers in Jefferson Parish and New Orleans also have launched legal challenges against individual Uber drivers, accusing them of operating without licenses and other requirements laid out in state and local laws.
While the Landrieu administration has downplayed the effects of the 1.2 million rides Uber provided last year on the market for cabs, taxi companies say they are struggling in the face of competition from the service, which faces less stringent regulations.
The reception Lyft will receive in the other suburban parishes where it plans to operate is unclear; it is the first company to announce operations in those parishes. The company did not immediately respond to questions about the legal basis for its operations in those parishes.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.