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NYC gets Lyft ride-sharing, but without the sharing

Lyft finally rolls out in New York City boroughs, but with commercially licensed drivers behind the wheel, not ordinary people.

Lyft distinguishes its cars with a fuzzy pink mustache. Lyft

Ride-sharing service Lyft has made its New York City debut, minus the sharing part.

The car service debuted Friday night in all five of the city's boroughs after weeks of setbacks and roadblocks with local officials. But instead of launching as a peer-to-peer service that lets ordinary people with privately-owned cars sell rides to other people via its mobile app, it will only be using commercially licensed drivers -- as does its rival Uber -- to comply with city regulations.

Lyft, which is known for its pink-mustachioed cars, also kicked off a promotional launch campaign, offering an unknown number of customers who had downloaded the Lyft app up to 50 free rides, valued at up to $25 each, over the next two weeks. Lyft apparently reached out to those customers via text and email.

CNET contacted Lyft to find out just how many "Lyft Pioneers" got the free ride deal, and how the launch first couple of days have gone. We'll update this post when we hear back.

Fifty rides valued at $25 a pop is a potentially expensive introductory promotion for Lyft. Although quite a few customers tweeted about problems they've had actually cashing in on the offer. Tero Kuittinen's tweet is just one such example:

Lyft's NYC launch was initially scheduled for July 11, but put on hold after the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission filed a restraining order keep it from operating in the city as planned.

The lingering sticking point is whether Lyft, which in other cities uses a mobile app to connect perspective customers with part-time drivers of private cars, should be subject to the same transit regulations to which taxi and limousine services are held. Those regulations involve things like background checks for drivers, vehicle inspections, and insurance coverage.

Uber battled this same issue two years ago and came to an agreement with New York that it -- like Lyft -- would only operate the UberX service with commercially licensed and registered drivers.

Lyft is calling this "a limited beta launch" and teased a full rollout in coming weeks. It considers the launch and related agreement it reached with the city as a "first big step in finding a home for Lyft's peer-to-peer model in New York. It pledged to continue to work with regulatory agencies to "craft new rules for peer-to-peer transportation in New York."