[By Julie Weed]
Driving for ride-sharing companies is a juggling act. To maximize their income, drivers often keep Uber on one screen and Lyft on another.
These two apps are the giants in the field, but a smaller ecosystem is sprouting around them, to help ride-share drivers get the most out of their shifts, and also to help passengers save money and time.
Seventy percent of ride-share drivers hit the road part time, so an important first question many ask is “when should I drive?” said Ryan Green, chief executive of Gridwise, a mobile app that provides important real-time data for drivers. That information can include detailed weather forecasts, traffic conditions, local event schedules and how many other ride-share drivers are on the road. Knowing this, a driver can try to find the best spots to make the most money.
Drivers have different preferences, Mr. Green said: “We want to equip them to make the best decisions.”
A big concert this weekend? A driver might want to find a position near the arena’s exits — or avoid the area and its traffic entirely. Transit schedules like subway and bus hours help drivers identify daily ride request patterns, while a forecast for rain in the next hour can let them know more business is coming soon.
“There’s fragmentation and a lack of transparency of information on what’s happening in real time and what’s going to happen,” Mr. Green said. “We’re connecting bread crumbs across data areas.”
Sergio Avedian, a senior contributor for The Rideshare Guy website and a driver coach, says the apps can help drivers, especially those new to the job, plan out their day, position themselves in the right places at the right time and wait for the most lucrative fares. “Drivers who just turn on Lyft or Uber and take whatever rides it sends are not making as much as they could,” Mr. Avedian said.
When a driver who uses both Uber and Lyft accepts a ride request, he or she will switch off the other service (ignoring or turning down ride requests can hurt a driver’s standing). Thanks to all that switching, their records of time and miles driven are fragmented. Services that stay on in the background all day can track miles driven and dollars earned per mile or per hour, for tax purposes and to analyze revenue.
Gridwise and other apps can also help give drivers a big-picture view. For example, knowing that a number of planes are landing and not that many drivers are at the airport could encourage more Uber and Lyft traffic.
There is one hurdle, however: Lyft and Uber aren’t always keen on sharing their data. There’s a basic misalignment of goals, said Harry Campbell, founder of The Rideshare Guy.
Drivers want to maximize their revenue, Mr. Campbell said, while ride-share companies strive to keep prices low for customers and to become profitable. The companies want drivers and riders to use only their service, but drivers and riders are looking for choice.
For drivers, safety is another concern. The Mystro app lets drivers who work for Lyft and Uber automatically accept rides based on their set preferences; when a ride is accepted on Lyft, say, the app switches off Uber. These are actions a driver would otherwise have to perform manually.
When Lyft turned off Mystro’s access earlier this year, drivers complained.
Doug Feigelson, Mystro’s chief executive, found a new technical approach to connect with Lyft’s information and is rolling it out. “Lyft is not helping us with this,” he said.
The ancillary apps face a number of other challenges. Ride-share companies have begun adding information like event schedules in some cities, so the new apps “have to distinguish themselves by providing a layer of information that Uber and Lyft can’t provide or are not willing to provide,” Mr. Campbell said.
Driver turnover is high and those who quit altogether also usually cease using the ancillary app. “The most successful apps provide some kind of service the customer could still use after they stop being a ride-share driver,” Mr. Campbell said.
There are a host of other niches the apps are aiming to fill. When demand is high, Lyft and Uber charge riders higher “surge” prices, which translate to higher pay for drivers.
An app called Surge provides Uber drivers the ability to monitor their current location or fixed locations for surges. They can receive notifications when surges start, change and end. With this information, they can decide when to go online and accept rides. They can also put pins in a map to be notified of surges in those areas. Receiving a surge notification, they sometimes turn off all ride-share apps until they arrive in the area, so they are not called to a non-surge trip on the way.
SherpaShare uses location tracking to chart the mileage driven, and at the end of each trip, the driver indicates its purpose as work or leisure. Drivers can deduct 58 cents per mile driven from their taxes as a business expense, so it’s important to keep track, and the app can create I.R.S.-compliant reports for tax purposes. TripLog and Everlance are other similar apps that some drivers have come to rely on.
Ride-share drivers use a number of other categories of apps more than the typical mobile user does, according to Lexi Sydow, senior market insights manager at App Annie mobile insights and analytics. These include banking, parking, gas loyalty and car maintenance apps. They are also more likely to use job seeking apps like ZipRecruiter.
The drivers aren’t alone in juggling Uber and Lyft. Passengers will often call up each app to see if one ride is substantially cheaper. Both Google Maps and Apple Maps display some ride-share options, depending on location.
The app Migo shows passengers local ride-share options as well as bikes, scooters, taxis, public transit and car shares. When Lyft and Uber ceased working with it, the company recently shifted its focus to smaller and international ride-share companies like RideAustin in Texas and GETT in Israel and Britain.
International markets have a much richer set of mobility options, said Jeff Warren, founder of Migo. It’s hard, though, for travelers to do the research to find the best local ride-share companies and then download each app and enter payment information, he said.
Migo aims to solve that problem by integrating access to those services into its app, including the ability to book and pay for the ride. In Paris for example, Migo will have about a dozen choices for travelers.
The number of new entrants in this field is expected to keep rising, because there is a great need, Mr. Campbell said. “Riders are looking for options,” he said, “and drivers are looking for ways to stay ahead of the competition.”