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Lyft Converts Commercial Buildings for New Driver ‘Pit Stops’

Former Toys R Us in San Diego Is Ride-Hailing Firm’s Largest Auto Repair Center

By Lou Hirsh CoStar News | February 12, 2020

Ride-hailing firm Lyft opened in a former Toys R Us store in San Diego its largest of five U.S. driver centers, a move that shows how the gig industry provides one answer to filling retail space left empty by stores that couldn't adapt to the challenge of e-commerce.

Lyft, based in San Francisco, is scouting other major cities for vacated stores, auto dealership buildings and similar sites to repurpose into what the company likens to a race car pit stop, where its drivers can obtain fast and discounted auto repair and maintenance services.

The centers also include Wi-Fi-enabled lounges where drivers can relax or socialize between shifts, get tech support related to Lyft’s driver app or attend workshops on taxes and other employment matters.

“We want to help the drivers get the service they need for their cars, make it affordable, and let them get back on the road as quickly as possible,” Hao Meng, Lyft’s Southern California general manager, told CoStar News. “We know that for many of those drivers, their car is their livelihood.”

She said the 35,000-square-foot space in the San Diego retail building at 1240 W. Morena Blvd., in the city’s Pacific Beach-Morena neighborhood, was chosen for a location central for most of its local drivers. The locale is also not far from San Diego International Airport, which generates a sizable portion of fares for the region’s ride-hailing drivers.

The renovated retail space includes new auto service bays. (Bauman Photographers)

Lyft officials said the company’s next location is set to open soon in Chicago, after prior openings in San Francisco, Denver, Phoenix and Austin, Texas. The company is scouting sites in Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities and is aiming primarily to repurpose existing properties rather than build new facilities from the ground up.

The current Denver area center, for instance, is located in a building that formerly housed a Land Rover car dealership in Aurora, Colorado, CoStar data shows.

Lyft in 2018 announced plans to invest $100 million in the driver centers, as it competes with firms including its chief rival, San Francisco-based Uber Technologies, which has opened several similar facilities in cities, including New York, Los Angeles and San Diego.

An exterior mural at the Lyft driver center highlights iconic San Diego locations. (Bauman Photographers)

Commercial broker Mike Moser, who handled the San Diego Lyft leasing on behalf of building owner Floit Properties, told CoStar News the property was vacated by Toys R Us about a year ago. Because of its central location, it had since been eyed by potential retail tenants before Lyft leased it last summer for an undisclosed price and then renovated.

“They were able to install roll-up doors for auto service, and there was plenty of space open for the other parts of the center,” said Moser, partner in the brokerage firm Retail Insite in San Diego. “It would seem that retail stores and auto dealer buildings would work well for this, since they also have the kind of parking space that you would need for this type of use.”

Lyft expects to serve thousands of its drivers at the San Diego center, which employs 20. Physical changes to the former toy store include adding auto service bays and an exterior mural painted by local artist Celeste Byers, illustrating Lyft vehicles traveling through some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, such as downtown, Balboa Park and the Coronado Bay Bridge.

Lyft also plans to use the center to operate its Express Drive program, connecting Lyft drivers to rental vehicles through a partner provider, Flexdrive. Drivers will have access to rental cars, including 100 hybrid-engine vehicles, in cases where repairs to their own cars might require extra time.

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