Cars

Uber vs. Lyft: Which ridesharing app goes the distance?

Uber vs. Lyft
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It seems like decades ago that the ridesharing revolution began. It was harmless enough at first. Uber used the burgeoning app market to launch an on-demand vehicle service that soon grew into a multibillion-dollar game changer, and it is now a publicly traded company. Lyft wasn’t far behind, launching its own flavor of ridesharing in its home market of San Francisco soon afterward. Today, the question of choosing Uber vs. Lyft is a debate many of us face each time we need a ride.

While there are other ridesharing apps such as Curb and Juno, Uber and Lyft command the greatest chunk of the market. Ridesharing is so popular that several major automakers are either partnering with Uber and Lyft or preparing their own competing services, perhaps an acknowledgment that car ownership isn’t as important as it used to be. Instead of a corporate car, companies compensate employees for using ridesharing. People are commuting, shopping, and hitting the gym in an Uber or Lyft. Personal vehicles are reserved for weekend expeditions.

There are still some holdouts. Those without smartphones — a percentage of the population that shrinks each year — call for cabs. Those who prefer the privacy of their own car won’t commute with a stranger. Those with access to good public transportation won’t sit in traffic. These are the exceptions, however, not the rule.

So which one is better? Although Uber is still the biggest name in the industry, Lyft is hot on its heels. A rash of bad publicity for Uber has people considering their alternative. So which one should you use? In this article, we’ll compare the two so you can ride smarter.

At a glance

Category Winner
Booking a ride Tie
The passenger experience Uber
Services and rates Lyft
How drivers are treated Lyft
Where can you find a ride? Uber
Which app is less controversial? Lyft
Overall winner Lyft

Booking a ride

Both Uber and Lyft rely heavily on location-based data, which means you’ll need a good internet connection, either through Wi-Fi or your cellular service. Once the app loads, it will drop a pin on your current location. If the pin is off the mark, you can adjust its position to get an accurate starting point. If you want to be picked up from a different spot, simply enter that address in the text box.

Lyft Aptiv ride experience
Alex Kalogianni/Digital Trends

The next step is to enter your destination. Like Google Maps, both Uber and Lyft can work with street addresses or points of interest. Once you’ve input your destination, the apps estimate your ride cost based on the service you choose, the time of day, and how far you’re going. Both Uber and Lyft will also give you an estimate of how long it will take for your driver to arrive at the designated pickup spot.

Both allow you the capability to set several stops along your route, useful if you need to drop someone off, pick someone up, or to grab something at home before continuing to your destination. You can even do a round trip if you need to. Both provide you with an estimated time of arrival at your final destination, as well as the ability to schedule a pickup for a later time.

After you request a pickup, both Uber and Lyft show a real-time visual of your driver’s progress to your location.

Winner: Tie

The passenger experience

Once your ride arrives, it’s time to hop in and go. If you’re nowhere to be found, Uber and Lyft drivers must wait five minutes before they’re allowed to cancel the ride. Uber will begin billing the passenger (per minute) after just two minutes of wait time. With Lyft, the ride automatically starts one minute after the driver arrives.

If you’ve never used a ridesharing service, you might not be sure where to sit. While Lyft encourages passengers to ride shotgun, common practice is to sit in the rear passenger seat. Most drivers will not mind if you sit in the front seat as long as you ask. In either case, you’ll likely be greeted by your driver. While it’s important for you to check that you’re getting into the right car, be sure to also provide your name to the driver and confirm that the person driving you is the one in the picture.

There’s not much difference whether you should talk to your driver or he or she talks to you between the two services. However, if you’re not the gabbing type, Uber recently added a feature to allow you to alert the driver ahead of time that you don’t want to talk.

Requesting an Uber ride

Both Uber and Lyft require credit card information to be stored in the app, so passengers needn’t worry about fumbling for a card at the conclusion of the ride. Once you reach the destination, you’re free to leave. However, you still have some homework. The next time you access the Lyft app, you’ll be asked to rate your driver on a scale of 1 to 5 and offer feedback — you’ll also have a chance to tip him or her (please do if they do a good job!). Uber’s process is similar. Uber and Lyft drivers also have an opportunity to rate their passengers. This tells other drivers who is a tough customer. Both driver and rider ratings are visible from the moment a ride is requested.

Your ratings are just as important as the driver’s: if you perennially are rated low by drivers — especially on Uber — you may be banned from the platform. Just be respectful and communicative, and the trip will go great.

Winner: Uber (for better control of your ride experience)

Services and rates

Now we’ll get into the varied services offered by Uber and Lyft, and the standard pricing structure for each app.

Uber has a broader range of services (vehicle types). Here’s how they work:

UberPool Up to two share an Uber with others heading in the same direction. (cheapest option).
UberX Book an everyday car with seating for four.
UberXL Book an everyday vehicle with seating for six.
UberSelect Book a more premium vehicle with seating for four (cheaper than UberBlack).
UberBlack Uber’s original service composed of black livery vehicles that seat four.
UberBlack SUV Book a premium SUV with seating for six.
Uber Lux Uber’s luxury car service with professional livery drivers.

Lyft has a comparatively streamlined service:

Lyft Shared Up to two share a Lyft with others heading in the same direction. (cheapest option).
Lyft Book an everyday car with seating for four.
Lyft XL Book an everyday vehicle with seating for six.
Lyft Lux Book a more premium vehicle with seating for four.
Lyft Black The most luxurious ride choice pairs black cars and SUVs with highly rated drivers.

Using Los Angeles as a sample market, here’s how the fee structure for a basic ride with UberX and Lyft compares as of June 2019:

UberX:

Booking/Service fee $2.30
Cost per minute $0.28
Cost per mile $0.80
Minimum charge $5.80
Cancellation fee $5.00

Lyft:

Booking/Service fee $2.30
Cost per minute $0.17
Cost per mile $1.06
Minimum charge $3.50
Cancellation fee $5.00

As you can see, pricing is slightly different between the two apps. While Lyft has the lower cost per minute, it has the higher cost per mile. Sitting in traffic — a rite of passage in LA — is going to cost you more in an Uber. However, over a longer trip in lighter traffic, you’ll actually pay less in the Uber than you would a Lyft.

Across many other cities, there is a similar dynamic. So be sure to take these factors into account when requesting a ride. The apps do not factor in traffic well — only using average traffic conditions to determine the rate you see. But you also need to be aware of surge pricing — which Uber calls “Surge” and Lyft “Prime Time” — which can make your ride much more expensive.

When an area gets busy, surge pricing kicks in. While Uber’s heat map is usually a large area, Lyft’s heat map tends to be much smaller. For Uber riders, this typically means you have to bite the bullet and pay the higher fare if you’re in a busy area at a busy time. Lyft riders, however, may have the opportunity to walk outside the heat map and return to normal rates. Also, Lyft price increases are usually less than Uber’s.

So which is cheaper? That varies, especially in times of high demand. However, more often than not Lyft will end up being the cheaper of the two options.

Winner: Lyft (for its smaller surge pricing areas and lower minimum charge)

How drivers are treated

We’ve touched on some of the driver experience as it pertains to tipping and rider interaction, but what else do drivers consider before picking a platform?

Uber and Lyft have both implemented policies to ensure drivers on their platforms are safe drivers, driving in newer cars that are safe for you the rider. Your driver should appear in a car no older than 15 years old (in some markets they’re required to driver even newer vehicles), and free of serious traffic violations and/or a criminal record. This is for your safety.

While a background check is required everywhere, as well as proper inspection and registration, in some markets drivers are required to have their cars inspected. All drivers are sent a welcome kit with decals to place on their vehicle. After a certain number of rides, Lyft will send a light up Lyft logo to drivers to use instead of the decal. These decals are mandatory under taxi and limousine laws, failure to have them on your car can mean a big fine.

Which rideshare service drivers decide to drive with depends on income. In large cities, while it’s most common for drivers to drive for Uber, some drive exclusively with Lyft. In suburban and rural areas it’s very common for drivers to drive for both services. However, drivers find that overall, driving for Uber is usually more lucrative, with significantly shorter drive times to pick up passengers.

Neither company gets high marks for treatment of drivers. With Uber, rate cuts in urban markets have cut pay for many drivers, however it does offer long pickup fees for exceptionally long drives to get passengers. Lyft does not — which allows it to offer cheaper rates. Customers know this, and have started to use Lyft to escape the long pickup premium.

Drivers, in return, have begun to increasingly reject these rides, so you may have difficult getting a Lyft in the sticks. But overall, Lyft’s moves have been less crappy for drivers, so they get the edge here — but barely.

Winner: Lyft, barely

Where can you find a ride?

So far it’s been fairly close, but Lyft has a noticeable edge. But where Uber does extremely well is its coverage area, and your ability to find a driver quickly. Over the past year, both companies have covered much of the populated regions of the United States. If you’re going abroad, chances are you’ll be using an Uber if you decide to use rideshare.

And as we mentioned in the last section, as you move away from the big cities, the way Uber and Lyft pay their drivers for the longer pickup times in more rural areas make it much easier to grab an Uber — or get a ride at all. Here Uber has a clear advantage, perhaps the most clear win in our matchup so far.

Winner: Uber

Which app is less controversial?

When disrupting an industry, you’re bound to break a few eggs, but Uber — and to a lesser degree, Lyft — has built a long rap sheet of major controversies. We’ll start with the issues that plague both Uber and Lyft.

The very concept of a peer-to-peer transportation service completely undermines the taxicab industry, which has led licensed taxi drivers to protest every ridesharing app. Uber and Lyft’s safety standards, background checks, under-regulated procedures, and insurance have come under the most fire.

Surge and Prime Time pricing were frequent points of criticism, with the potential for a $20 ride turning into one that costs hundreds of dollars. Massive increases in normal fares aren’t the worst of it, though. During emergency situations such as Hurricane Sandy and a bombing in New York, Uber was slapping surge rates on people who were attempting to flee dangerous situations. Lyft isn’t immune to PR trouble, either. Though the app capped Prime Time increases at 200%, the company lifted the ceiling in 2016, upsetting many users.

Both companies have since implemented controls to ensure that surge pricing makes these $100-plus rides uncommon, especially over short distances.

Apart from these broader points of contention, Uber takes the cake for controversy. Here are just some of the headline-grabbing moments in the app’s history:

Since the app launched in 2009, Uber has skirted the issue of employee benefits by considering its drivers “contractors,” but that line in the sand has led to dozens of lawsuits by drivers who claim they are entitled to traditional benefits. In the United Kingdom, a court ruled drivers are in fact employees, but the jury is still out elsewhere.

There have been several accusations by Uber passengers of attacks by drivers over the years. Two independent lawsuits have been filed by women who say they were sexually assaulted by Uber drivers: A woman in Los Angeles accused her driver of kidnapping her, and one San Francisco Uber driver allegedly smashed his passenger’s head with a hammer. The public and government have cited these instances and others during calls for improved driver background checks. Uber has been forced to pay millions for misleading safety fees and marketing related to its “gold standard” of background checks. While Uber does require driver names and Social Security numbers, it doesn’t use fingerprinting, which would reveal when a driver has been charged with a crime.

Both Uber and Lyft have announced their decisions to end a controversial policy regarding sexual assault, in which users were required to resolve such cases through arbitration, rather than through the criminal justice system.

While hitching a private ride anytime, anywhere may be convenient, it does contribute to one of the greatest ecological problems of our time: Greenhouse gas emissions. Lyft accounted for over 375 million rides in 2017 alone, while Uber — which operates in numerous countries around the world — reached 4 billion rides. And while the age of Teslas may soon be upon us, transportation is still a massive source of pollution: A 2016 EPA report labeled the transportation sector as the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

In April, Lyft launched a program to offset its carbon emissions, purchasing carbon credits to balance out every ton of carbon the company’s rides emit. It’s important to note that carbon credits are a controversial solution to climate change; after all, Lyft’s operations will still be putting gases into the atmosphere, the company will merely be paying to keep other carbon grounded.

Still, it’s something. If you’re concerned about environmental issues, you may want to opt for Lyft, as Uber has yet to announce a similar program.

Winner: Lyft

Overall winner: Lyft

While the author of this story can tell you firsthand as a part-time Uber and Lyft driver that to the driver there’s not much of a difference — they’re both two sides of the same greedy coin — to the passenger, Lyft gets the edge.

With Uber, you’ll get overall more reliable service, but for the most important factors — value and experience — Lyft is definitely the better choice. But they are fairly close — it really comes down to where you live. Generally though, Lyft will be better in cities, with Uber your best bet in the rural areas.

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