Lyft Delivers Safe Rides and Easy Communication with Twilio API

Sebastian Brannstrom, Lead Engineer at Lyft

Creating Lyft was a natural evolution for Zimride, a ride-sharing company that uses social networking to connect passengers with like-minded drivers for road trips.
Lyft, currently available in San Francisco, operates by the motto “your friend with a
car” and offers a community alternative to urban transportation.

Safety is a top priority for Lyft, and all community drivers must pass DMV and
criminal background checks, as well as an in-person interview. As another safety
precaution, Lyft wanted to provide a way for drivers and passengers to connect
without revealing their personal cell phone numbers.

Lyft turned to Twilio to help set up an anonymous calling service, due to its positive
experience working with the Twilio API. Both Lyft and Zimride had already been
using Twilio SMS for months to let passengers know their ride was on its way and
also to communicate with drivers. “It was an obvious solution to configure Twilio for
voice calling since the APIs were similar to the ones we’d already integrated,” said
Sebastian Brannstrom, lead engineer at Lyft.

Brannstrom said it took less than two days to implement anonymous calling,
integrating Twilio’s Voice API with Lyft’s PHP-based infrastructure. Brannstrom said
that although the “click-to-call” feature would have been a simpler solution to
implement, they opted for a slightly more complex, tailor-made system that would
also support SMS.

“We needed to create a reliable, privacy-aware way of communicating without
revealing private phone numbers,” Brannstrom said.

Lyft developed a Twilio-supported automated system that buys and assigns
numbers to drivers. Once a driver is approved and trained by Lyft, the system takes
over and immediately assigns an anonymous number to that person.

Passengers can use these numbers if they need to call a driver before pickup or
after drop-off. If the driver happens to be off duty, the call will go directly to Lyft’s
IVR, an interactive voice response system that is also built using the Twilio API.

If a driver needs to contact a passenger, such as when a passenger has left
something behind in the car, then the driver calls a switchboard that connects the
call to the passenger.

“Twilio was the simplest way to start using text messaging, so we assumed it would
be the same for integrating voice calling,” Brannstrom said, acknowledging that the
Twilio markup language and clear documentation made setup virtually effortless.

Lyft continues to add services offered by the Twilio platform. Most recently, they
added the IVR, which was implemented and customized within half a day. “This
flexibility is really important to us,” Brannstrom said. “We have the ongoing ability to
add features that will improve our service.”