SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Ride-hailing app Lyft has hired a startup veteran to lead its East Coast operations, the latest sign the company is ramping up efforts to win over regulators and beat back competitors in key cities such as New York.
Evan Cohen, a former executive at Foursquare, a mobile app that provides recommendations for restaurants and nightlife, joined San Francisco-based Lyft about a week ago as regional director of the company’s East Coast markets, Lyft told Reuters.
Lyft, which makes a smartphone app that allows passengers to summon a ride, has opened offices in major East Coast cities such as Boston and Washington, D.C. in recent years. Cohen will oversee these cities and is also currently running Lyft’s office in New York, where he will be based.
New York City, where Lyft launched last year, is one of the most-profitable markets but also among the most highly regulated for app-based ride services.
“Winning in New York City is both symbolically and strategically important for both Lyft and Uber,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research.
But the battle for both companies has been particularly grueling. The taxi industry has waged some of its most fierce fights in New York. Mayor Bill de Blasio at one point threatened, and then backed down from, a proposal to cap the number of ride-hailing vehicles.
“It is a market that is a regulatory thicket designed to protect the taxicab business,” said Aswath Damodaran, professor of finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
New York regulations require that each driver receive a permit, Cohen said, while most other cities only need the company to be licensed.
”There’s a little bit more friction getting drivers onto our platform,“ Cohen said. ”We know there is a tremendous opportunity there for us, but it is a challenging market.”
Lyft’s market share in New York has tripled since the summer, which the company points to as progress. But it’s playing catch-up with Uber, which launched there three years earlier and grew four-fold between July 2014 and July 2015.
Cohen, 45, who grew up in Boston and has spent most of his professional life in New York, was the sixth full-time employee at Foursquare. He was chief operating officer until mid-2014, when he resigned amid the company’s attempted turnaround.
“I felt that I had sort of gone through a bunch of cycles there and was ready for something new,” he said.
Reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Alan Crosby