The ridesharing revolution began harmlessly enough. Uber used the burgeoning app market to launch an on-demand vehicle service that soon grew into a multi-billion-dollar game-changer. 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 face each time they need a ride.
While there are other ridesharing apps such as Sidecar and Hail-o, Uber and Lyft command the greatest chunk of the market. Ridesharing has become so popular that several major automakers are either partnering with Uber and Lyft, or preparing their own competing services. This buy-in by major manufacturers highlights the current shift in consumer transportation. Instead of a corporate car, many companies in urban areas now offer credits with various ridesharing services. People have begun 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.
The big question for most, then, is not whether they should use a ridesharing service, but rather which one to go with: Uber vs. Lyft. While both services have grown closer to the mean since their inception, they still operate with unique business philosophies and interfaces. In this article, we’ll compare the two so you can ride smarter.
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.
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.
At this point, Lyft offers you two unique options. The first is to choose a waypoint along your route. This is useful if you need to drop someone off, pick someone up, or to grab something at home before continuing to your destination. The second option is to schedule a pickup for a later time. Uber’s differentiator is an estimate of your arrival time before you ever hit “go.” Lyft won’t give you an ETA until you request your ride.
After you request a pickup, both Uber and Lyft show a real-time visual of your driver’s progress to your location.
Winner: Lyft (for its waypoint options)
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 will 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. From the beginning, Lyft has encouraged passengers to ride shotgun if the seat is available. The idea here is that Lyft drivers and passengers should engage. Uber’s philosophy aligns more closely with the app’s livery service origins, meaning most passengers file into the rear seats. Also, Uber drivers tend not to start gabbing unless the passenger initiates a conversation. Depending on whether you’re an introverted or extroverted person, or whether you need to catch up on emails, you may prefer one app’s riding experience to another.
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. Uber’s process is very similar; in-app tipping was added in June, making the process very similar, and the app asks for ratings and feedback on the same scale. 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.
If you have questions or concerns about a trip, both Uber and Lyft will direct you to a FAQ section and an email for further assistance. Neither app provides a phone number or chat service for customer inquiries.
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:
Lyft has a comparatively streamlined service:
Using Los Angeles as a sample market, here’s how the fee structure for a basic ride with UberX and Lyft compares:
As you can see, the pricing for each app is pretty similar, but there’s another variable that can dramatically change how much a ride can cost — surge pricing. Both Uber and Lyft will increase a typical ride rate by a certain percentage based on location and demand. Uber calls this situation “Surge” and Lyft calls it “Prime Time.”
Both Uber and Lyft bump rates based on “heat maps.” When an area gets busy, surge pricing and prime time kick 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.
Taking all this information into consideration, which is cheaper? In some cities, one app’s fee structure is higher than the other, giving a narrow, but clear edge. If you’re a tipper, be sure to factor that into both Uber and Lyft rates.
Winner: Lyft (for its smaller surge pricing areas and lower minimum charge)