The San Francisco ride-sharing service said Thursday that it confidentially submitted a draft registration statement for an initial public offering of shares with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The number of shares to be offered, the nominal value of the shares and the timing of the IPO were not immediately known.
Lyft said the flotation would start after the SEC has reviewed its plans, but added that it would be "subject to market and other conditions", an important consideration amid recent stock market turmoil in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Lyft has set lower expectations: Its last private valuation pegged the company's worth at $15.1 billion. Uber has already disclosed it will go public next year, but hasn't indicated when. "Markets could go even lower, and the companies could raise less money if they waited longer", said Jay Ritter, an IPO expert and professor at the University of Florida.
The SEC filing escalates the company's rivalry with Uber, which has been struggling with scandals. They have also invested in rival electric scooter services.
Lyft has pursued a series of partnerships in the contest to be the first to bring autonomous taxis to the mass market.
Lyft, founded in 2012, has been building up its executive ranks.
Uber and Lyft's potential arrival on the U.S. stock markets are two of the most eagerly awaited flotations on Wall Street and will test investor appetite for companies that have a high profile but are making losses. The company operates in the United States and Canada, while Uber is in much of the world and has other businesses including freight-hailing and food delivery.
The two companies have taken hits to their bottom lines in order to attract drivers and enter new markets, although they have made strides in recent years in narrowing their losses.
Jeff Zell, an analyst at advisory firm IPO Boutique in Florida, said: "With autonomous cars on the horizon, it is anyone's guess where this sector goes in the future". Its investors include General Motors Corp, which holds a 9 per cent stake in Lyft that it acquired for $500 million in 2016, but GM has wound down its co-operation with Lyft, choosing instead to acquire the autonomous auto company Cruise. Both companies face legal battles with drivers over their classification.