If you’re a casual user of ridesharing, it probably doesn’t matter much if Lyft or Uber gets the call. Their offerings are fairly close.
Sam Abuelsamid, a senior auto analyst at Navigant Research, told Autoblog, “In my use of the services, I’ve never really found any significant differences, apart from some app design changes. Lyft was first to offer driver tipping in the app, but anything that one does is usually copied by the other before long. Both allow you to set up personal and business accounts, schedule rides and select from different rides at different price points. Both also have car-pooling options in certain locations and allow you to split fares with other riders.”
But let’s look closer, and look at the differences that will matter for heavy ride-sharers. Uber is by far the bigger company, of course, and operates internationally. Uber, in more than 70 countries, had $7.4 billion in global net revenue for 2017, a big gain from 2016. But despite that, it still lost $4.5 billion. Lyft, which operates only in the U.S. and Ontario, Canada, had $1.06 billion in net revenue in the same period (with a $688 million loss), but it is growing faster than Uber and claims it is on track to make a profit.
The size of the companies won’t make much difference when you’re hailing a ride, because Lyft punches above its weight. The booking experience is pretty seamless on both apps. Both will estimate the cost of your ride, and give an estimated time of the driver’s arrival.
Lyft gives passengers the chance to pick a stopover along the way to their ultimate destination, and schedule pickups for later in the day. An Uber advantage, according to DigitalTrends.com, is giving riders an estimate of the arrival time before the car is actually called. As a marketing tool, both services issue credits via their apps that can be used for free rides. Before hailing your first ride, look for promo codes for discounted rides. A friend can give you a referral code, and the companies often have other promotions going on. Lyft has its own list of promos here, and Uber has one here. A Google search could yield more yet.
The biggest problem I’ve had with Lyft and Uber is drivers initially failing to locate me, but we eventually connected. Both services will cancel rides after five minutes of waiting time, but Lyft will start billing you a minute after the driver begins to wait; Uber offers a longer grace period, but the wait times vary by city. Both ask you to rate your ride, and both encourage tipping (through the apps or directly to the driver) as part of that process.
Lyft is chummier, and wields a “Friend with a Car” slogan. It encourages customers to ride up front with the driver (who may be in costume on holidays). Uber drivers talk too — a lot, in my experience — but usually only if the passenger (most often in the back) wants an exchange.
Rates get complicated, since both Uber and Lyft offer tiered services, depending on whether you share your ride (UberPool and Lyft Line) or want to ride in style (UberSelect and Lyft Premier and Lux). Uber has wider vehicle selection; for instance, it offers UberSUV, which provides seating for up to six.
They charge similar service fees. Per mile and per-minute charges are very close, and vary according to location. On a rough average, they charge $1 to start a ride, and then $1.50 per mile, plus 25 cents a minute — or around $2 total per mile. The two companies operate in the same cities, so they compete closely on prices. I haven’t found either service particularly easy to negotiate when I thought I needed a refund. Lyft has the more accessible customer service.
Passengers on both services will pay more during times of high traffic. I’ve been hit with expensive rides during conferences. This is called Surge pricing at Uber, and Prime Time at Lyft, and Uber tends to charge higher premiums for it. According to Ridester.com, “Surge charges increase Uber fares about 7X or 8X, while Lyft has been known to increase their prices at least 2X.” That might be a reason to take Lyft if your trips are mostly to big-ticket events.
Lyft drivers make more money, if that’s a concern, around $13.70 per hour for Uber, according to Ridester.com’s survey, and $17.50 at Lyft. Uber gives larger signing bonuses to drivers.
Both companies will dismiss drivers with bad records. But that doesn’t guarantee you won’t encounter really bad actors, such as the Uber driver who attempted to kidnap a woman who fell asleep in his car.
Ridesharing is getting ready for the coming age of the autonomous car, which should end problems like the one above, but may offer new headaches. Remember Jared getting kidnapped by a self-driving car and taken 4,000 miles out of his way on “Silicon Valley?”