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

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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?

The driver experience starts with the application process. Uber and Lyft approach hiring very differently. Uber gives drivers a number of hoops to jump through upfront, and then stays out of a driver’s business except to request updated insurance or to settle a dispute. Lyft, however, “mentors” new drivers by pairing applicants with a veteran driver. Mandatory sessions with an experienced driver take each applicant through the complete hiring process, which is great — if you don’t mind setting aside the additional time.

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Once your car has been inspected, your insurance and registration approved, and your background checked, Uber and Lyft send you logos to display in your vehicle. These icons must be visible at all times when you’re on the clock. In some areas, like airports, failure to display your driver icon can result in a steep fine. Lyft distinguishes itself by sending drivers a welcome packet that includes a smartphone mount for his or her vehicle.

Drivers choosing between Uber and Lyft will likely factor in ease of onboarding and company culture, but the deciding factor is almost always income. Though many drivers may prefer Lyft’s interface, customer base, and support, Uber’s larger user base means the downtime between ride requests on Uber is often shorter than on Lyft.

If you drive in a densely populated area, the rates may be more important than downtime between rides. Lyft drivers who applied before the first of January 2016 take home 80 percent of the total fare (minus the service fee). Any Lyft drivers who applied after this date get the same rate as Uber: 75 percent of the total fare (minus the service fee), regardless of when they started. Neither app takes a penny from in-app tips. This means veteran Lyft drivers in Lyft-friendly areas stand to make a fair amount more than their Uber counterparts.

Winner: Lyft

Where can you find a ride?

Lyft has chalked up several category wins so far, but Uber is returning fire with its massive coverage area. First and foremost, Lyft operates in the United States and Ontario, Canada, while Uber extends to major cities in Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific. Basically, if you want to grab a ride while abroad, your only option (between these two apps) is likely Uber.

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Within the U.S., the coverage maps are fairly similar. Uber is available in all 50 states, reaching over 250 total cities.

Lyft is currently available in more than 300 cities across all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C.

If it’s a global battle, Lyft has a lot of catching up to do, but here in the U.S., Lyft is giving Uber a run for its money.

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, underregulated procedures, and insurance have come under the most fire.

Surge and Prime Time pricing have upset taxi drivers and app users alike, 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 (at least briefly). Lyft isn’t immune to PR trouble, either. Though the app capped Prime Time increases at 200 percent, the company lifted the ceiling in 2016, upsetting many users.

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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.

Uber has drawn ire for operating at JFK International Airport during the taxi strike of Trump’s Immigration ban, absorbing self-driving vehicle service, Otto — whose founder has been accused by Google of trade secret theft — and for Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s dashcam-recorded argument with a driver.

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

The executive summary of this comparison is that Uber and Lyft offer nearly the same service. Both provide convenient, inexpensive transportation in most major areas, and either option is more than sufficient for day-to-day commuting. But while Uber and Lyft are more like apples and pears than apples and oranges, there are enough differences for us to declare a clear winner.

Yes, coverage areas and diversity of service are in Uber’s favor, but for the rest of the spread — booking, passenger experience, driver experience, and company controversy — Lyft is our pick. If none of those issues are contributing factors for you, let’s get down to brass tax: Lyft is generally the cheaper option. Not only is Lyft’s minimum charge lower, its heat maps are usually smaller as well, meaning your ride will be easier on your wallet during peak hours.

To its credit, though, Uber has invested heavily in innovative technology to make the riding experience simpler. Specifically, the app is testing self-driving vehicle fleets and hopes to have driverless rides available to the public in mere months. Lyft is of a similar mind but has yet to invest on the same scale. The future for ridesharing drivers looks grim, but riders may be in for the safest, smoothest experiences yet.

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