Uber and Lyft's decision to team with get-out-the-vote groups to provide free or discounted rides to the polls in Tuesday midterm elections has raised question about the companies' motives — is this an act of civic engagement or a marketing ploy to get new riders?
Uber is partnering with Democracy Works and #VoteTogether, and Lyft has joined forces with Vote.org and TurboVote.
Offering free rides to the polls is nothing new. Politicians and political action groups do it all the time, but this is different because it’s ride-sharing businesses that are offering to help.
Julie Irwin, marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said Uber and Lyft say they’re side-stepping the politics by offering discounted rides to everyone, not just Republicans or Democrats.
"But, I mean, even if they said, ‘We want more progressives out, so we’re going to give people rides,' I don’t think it would hurt Uber and Lyft because that’s probably who uses them,” Irwin said.
It may not hurt business, but it could get the companies into legal trouble if it appears they’re soliciting a vote in exchange for a ride. On their websites, both Lyft and Uber have disclaimers denying any political motive.
Jim O’Rourke, marketing professor at the University of Notre Dame, maintained that, at the end of the day, this is a move to get new riders.
“Particularly if you’re an older customer or someone in an underserved area, it’s a great way to introduce someone to the service,” he said.
It’s unclear how much this will cost Uber and Lyft, but the services said drivers will be paid for the full amount of the ride.