Using tactics it once slammed, Lyft is poaching Uber drivers to build a competing luxury line

Lyft just unveiled Premier, a new high-end ride-hailing service designed to take a chunk out of Uber’s luxury service.

In the process of ramping up the new service, though, Uber drivers accuse Lyft of adopting a controversial practice of hailing Uber cars to try to recruit and convert drivers to its platform. Ironically, Uber drew criticism in 2014 for using the same type of aggressive tactic against Lyft drivers.

Christian Perea, an Uber driver and contributor The Rideshare Blog, first broke the news of the high-end Lyft Premier service in mid-June. Designed to attract an upper-end clientele, Premier requires drivers to have luxury cars like an Audi A6, BMW, or an Escalade.

On Thursday, Lyft announced it was starting Premier in the Bay Area, New York, and Los Angeles. Lyft will charge consumers a premium for the new Premier service, with pricing that starts at $2.66 per mile instead of the $1.16 starting price for Lyft’s regular service.

In Lyft’s quest to build a large fleet of vehicles and drivers for its Premier service, the company resorted to what Perea describes as a “smaller, gentler Operation SLOG”.

Uber’s infamous “Operation SLOG” saw recruiters, equipped with burner phones and pre-paid credit cards, requesting Lyft rides to try to convince drivers to work for Uber. Drivers hated the “slogging” because Uber’s recruiters, who wanted to meet as many different potential recruits as possible, would leave drivers bad ratings to avoid being matched with the same person again.

This time around, internal Uber data obtained by Business Insider suggests Lyft recruiters are now using similar tactics, but without intentionally lowering driver ratings. After Uber’s Operation SLOG was uncovered by The Verge, Lyft lambasted Uber for the practice, telling CNN Money that “It’s unfortunate for affected community members that they have used these tactics, as it wastes a driver’s time and impacts the next passenger waiting for that driver. We remain focused on growing the business faster than any competitor through better customer experience and innovation.”

Hand in the cookie jar

A year later, Lyft appears to have started doing something similar.

“Uber is known for getting caught with its hand in the cookie jar,” Perea told Business Insider. “But while it’s being yelled at in one room, Lyft will often run in and grab a cookie too.”

Since last September, the leaked data shows shows more than 58,000 trips and 11,000 cancellations for Uber rides made from 800 fake rider accounts. Of the cancellations, many were made before Uber’s cancellation fee kicked-in.

A source claims that these rides were all paid for by two corporate credit cards with the same ZIP code in San Francisco’s Mission District, where Lyft’s headquarters are located. Of those trips, at least 300 were requests for Uber’s high-end Select cars, with the aim of recruiting for Lyft Premier.

Lyft operates an “Ambassador” program, which pays people hundreds of dollars for new driver referrals. But while Lyft has long criticised the practice of taking rides from rival services as a recruiting tactic, the leaked data shows that it is increasingly a part of Lyft’s playbook.

A Lyft spokesperson did not deny the recruiting tactics, but said that cancelling rides from rival service was not a part of the program.

“The data is well under normal industry cancellation rates. We have a Lyft ambassador program and as part of the training process, we clearly instruct drivers never to cancel rides,” the spokesperson told Business Insider.

Perea told Business Insider that he’s heard from drivers in San Francisco that a lot of Uber Select requests were originating from Lyft’s headquarters on Harrison Street. Many of those rides were being used to pitch drivers to sign up for the upcoming Lyft Premier as the company ran sign-on bonuses ranging from $500 to $1,000 to join the platform.

“I actually considered staking out Lyft HQ when I heard about this and logging into Uber Select to catch some of the pitches since it would be an easy $10-25 dollars,” Perea joked. “I was gonna be like ‘Well….I don’t know…do you mind if I ask you some questions about Lyft while I drive you around?'”

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