Uber or Lyft: Which is Best?

Category: Auto

Like it or not, ride-hailing services powered by smartphone apps are here to stay. It’s mainly taxi drivers who don’t like Uber, Lyft, and the many also-rans in competition with traditional taxi services. Passengers, by and large, are thrilled to get rides in minutes for far less than taxis charge. Let's compare the Big Two in the ride sharing revolution...

Which Car Service is Best?

The term "disruptive innovation" is defined by Wikipedia as "an innovation that creates a new market and value network… displacing established market leading firms, products, and alliances." Wikipedia itself is one such example, displacing the traditional encyclopedia market.

Streaming video services such as Netflix have practically obsoleted the DVD rental business. In the next decade, autonomous cars may replace human-operated ones. But for now, we still have plenty of cars, and plenty of drivers disrupting the traditional transportation markets via Uber and Lyft.

The only controversy left is, “Which service is better?” The answer is pretty clear; Lyft offers the better deal, all else being equal. However, “all else” is often not equal. Let’s take a look at both services’ apps, standard price rates, and policies.

Uber versus Lyft

The Uber app and the Lyft app are quite similar, which isn’t surprising given that they do very similar things. There are some differences worth considering.

Both apps try to detect your current location for pickup using your smartphone’s location services, so you should have that option enabled. You can change the pickup location either by moving a pin on a map or by typing in a street address. Both apps then show you the cars near you, with estimated arrival time for each.

This is an improvement over taxi services that require a specific address. For example, I once called for a cab and gave the address of a shop I had just left. Unfortunately, its street address is that of the shopping mall in which it is located, so the driver looked for me more than a block away.

Location, Location, Location

If you don't have a smartphone, you can use your desktop computer to visit Lyft or Uber, create an account, and get a price quote. Lyft lets you hail a ride from their website, but Uber makes it harder. After signing up at www.Uber.com, you have to visit m.Uber.com, to trick Uber into thinking you're using a mobile device.

Destinations can be specified by street address, landmark name, or even personal locations stored on your Google Maps, e. g., “Grandma’s.” Uber wants a destination first; Lyft starts with your pickup location. In fact, you only need to specify a destination for Lyft if you want a cost estimate before booking a ride.

Lyft lets you add a “waypoint,” a place to stop between your pickup and destination. This is useful if you want to grab a Starbucks or drop off a companion on your way home. It’s possible to negotiate such waypoints with an Uber driver, but Lyft takes the hassle out of it.

Once you book a ride, both services display a map that shows your driver’s progress towards you and estimated arrival time. You’ll get a beep on your phone when the driver is one minute away, so you don’t have to stand outside waiting or even pay attention to the progress map. No taxi service will do that.

Once your ride arrives, Uber gives you two minutes to board before starting to bill you for waiting time. Lyft doesn’t start billing until you are in the vehicle. Drivers for both services may cancel a trip if you fail to board within five minutes of their arrival. (Cancellations get rather tricky, requiring links to Uber’s and Lyft’s policies.)

Fees and Payment

Both services accept credit or debit cards; Lyft also accepts Paypal. Card numbers are stored on the services’ servers. Either way, when you get to your destination you can just jump out and go, without fumbling for a card or with a payment terminal. After your ride, you can rate your driver and the driver can rate you. You can also add a tip if you wish, all of which goes to the driver.

Here is a comparison of standard rates charged by Lyft and Uber, followed by a discussion of why they may vary widely.

 
UberX:
Booking/Service fee$1.85
Cost per minute$0.15
Cost per mile$0.90
Minimum charge$5.35
Cancellation fee$5.00

Lyft:
Booking/Service fee$1.80
Cost per minute$0.15
Cost per mile$0.90
Minimum charge$3.50
Cancellation fee$5.00

The costs shown above are for the lowest-priced, single-passenger service offered by each company. Uber and Lyft offer slightly cheaper “ride-pooling” options if you’re willing to share a back seat with one or two strangers, and wait while the driver looks for more passengers. In my experience, both in suburban and downtown areas, drivers spend little time cruising for more passengers and I have yet to actually share a ride.

Service, Swank, and Surge

Both companies offer different levels of service and swank, from the economical but somewhat awkward ride-sharing option to deluxe limo and SUV rides. Their prices vary accordingly and are shown during the booking process Neither company has a handicapped-accessible vehicle class.

The biggest price difference occurs in “surge pricing” situations, when a spike in demand drives prices up dramatically. Surge pricing helps to keep wait times reasonable by a) persuading more drivers to get out on the road, and b) dissuading potential passengers. Uber’s zones in which surge pricing is temporarily applied tend to be large. Lyft’s zones are much smaller, so it’s possible to escape a surge-priced zone by walking a block or two.

The quality of vehicles and drivers is about the same whether you ride Uber or Lyft. In fact, your driver may work with both companies, switching from one to the other depending on passenger demand in his/her area. The ride experiences I have had are the same as taxi rides I have taken; perhaps a little better, overall.

I wouldn’t price shop Uber vs. Lyft on trips of less than 15 miles or so. Taxis will always lose to either Uber or Lyft, and not by trivial amounts There are apps that will take your starting and end points, and give you side-by-side estimates of Uber, Lyft, and even taxi companies in your area. But their estimates are based upon published prices, so they are generally off quite a bit. Also, they do not account for surge pricing.

Have you used Uber or Lyft to hail a ride? Tell me about your experience. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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This article was posted by on 5 Oct 2017


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Most recent comments on "Uber or Lyft: Which is Best?"

(See all 22 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

lawrie
05 Oct 2017

I have recently signed up with Uber - Lyft isn't available in the UK where I live. I have only taken 2 rides - one in Chicago from Lakeview to O'Hare and one in London from Heathrow airport to my home around 40 miles away in Surrey, UK. I have to say both rides were excellent and I know the UK one was at about half the price of a London Taxi black cab and was in a Toyota Prius hybrid which meant far lower emissions than a London taxicab. My son who lives in Chicago, and formerly in New York, used to use Uber and now uses Lyft mostly but rates both services highly. I'll definitely use Uber again unless its banned in London as the London taxi mafia wishes!


Posted by:

Captain J
05 Oct 2017

When comparing only two objects (Uber and Lyft) the correct word is “better” not “best”. “Best” is used for three or more objects. ... Well, you did say grammar is important.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Okay, then should one use "bestest" when comparing FOUR or more objects? :-)


Posted by:

Charley
05 Oct 2017

Most of the people I know have switched to Lyft from Uber if it is available in their area. It had nothing to do with service, but rather with Uber company policies, controversies, etc.


Posted by:

Joan
05 Oct 2017

I've used Uber several times. I have yet to have a bad experience. Right now, Uber is offering a "flat fare pass" in some areas. You pay a nominal fee ($5 in Dallas), and for 28 days all rides that would cost less than $20 are only $6.95. Fares higher than $20 are $6.95 plus the over-$20 amount. (And fares less than $6.95 cost their usual price.) Since I mainly use Uber to get to work (normally $14-$17 depending on demand), this is a great bargain for me.


Posted by:

Joan
05 Oct 2017

Quick addendum to my comment: The pass has a limited area, which excludes the Highland Park/University Park "bubble" and D/FW airport. But "limited" doesn't mean small: it includes all of Fort Worth as well!


Posted by:

Jim
05 Oct 2017

Is Uber available in Rome, Italy?


Posted by:

pdsterling
05 Oct 2017

I am a non-lyft, non-über driver, partly because I am too old to have a smart phone and they cost too much. I get the impression that they expect you to work all of the time, which I do not want to do. Ergo, I am tired of hearing about this topic.


Posted by:

Kate
05 Oct 2017

I would add one point: When entering your pickup point, you can also just type in the name of the store/restaurant/bar where you are, you don't have to know the street address. For example, I can enter "Knickerbocker Grill" and it knows where that is. Much easier than asking the bartender or the host/hostess what street address you're at.

Also, in NYC, there is another app called Juno. (I have not seen it in other cities.) Juno takes a much smaller percentage from the driver (10% compared to the 25% Uber and Lyft take). The drivers have confirmed this to me. They tell me they love Juno the best and if a ride comes up on both Uber and Juno, they take the Juno ride every time. Much shorter wait times as a result.


Posted by:

MikieB
05 Oct 2017

One thing to remember. If you see someone you know across a busy street don't wave at them. You may be swarmed by cabs, etc.


Posted by:

Ken H
05 Oct 2017

I have used both and they are about the same in most cases, with slightly more Uber rides available.....maybe (as Bob notes most of my drivers are driving for both and like some things better about each) and Lyft may be slightly cheaper (they both offer special deal from time to time.)
When I was there in August Uber was not allowed to operate in Rome (they were also outlawed in Madrid, but changed the name to Uber X and changed some policies to be more in line with taxi regulations- since taxis have a flat rate to and from the airport [$30 for a relatively long trip] we just took a taxi) also it is illegal to flag down a taxi in Rome- you must either call or pick one up at a taxi stand.
I mostly use Lyft because.....politics.
I would spend a little more to use a taxi, but they are so unreliable in Portland and SF and surly when you call them on running up the fare by driving the long way around.


Posted by:

Joe
05 Oct 2017

Bob, a comparison of the insurance landscape as it relates to coverage for injured passengers would make a good folllowup to this article. My instinct says that if there's a crash and you're injured, you're better off insurance-wise in a taxicab operated by a large, regulated company than in the car of an independent contractor who may or may not have informed his insurance company that he's driving commercially. Or maybe not; I've never used Uber or Lyft, so I know little about them...


Posted by:

Geof C
05 Oct 2017

I have used Uber in US, Australia and Malaysia without complaint. In South East Asia there is also GrabCar, which my local friends think is better than Uber.

Yes, Uber is available in Italy (Rome - not sure about other cities)


Posted by:

Muskrat
05 Oct 2017

Uber also uses PayPal and also allows stops along the way. One improvement that both need to have is the ability to have two or more rides going at the same time. Say you want to put your son in an Uber/Lyft and send him on his way and then you want one for yourself....Can't do it......Yet.


Posted by:

PA Frank
05 Oct 2017

One exception to the price advantage for Uber/Lyft is during those surge periods. In DC, our daughter got a regular cab for us when all the clubs were closing and said - from her own experience - that the price would be much lower, since the cabs don't jack up rates when demand is high.


Posted by:

Paul
05 Oct 2017

I have used primarily Uber and have been exceptionally satisfied. Both are great services. Prompt!!!


Posted by:

Mark
05 Oct 2017

Regarding Joe's comment: Anyone interested in becoming an Uber or Lyft driver needs to check their auto insurance policy. Mine specifically prohibits using my car to carry passengers on my personal policy. I would have to get a different policy to do so. (State Farm in Georgia, US)


Posted by:

bob k.
06 Oct 2017

"When comparing only two objects (Uber and Lyft) the correct word is “better” not “best”. “Best” is used for three or more objects. ... Well, you did say grammar is important."
-Captain J

------------------------------------

Captain J,

Thank you for that. I've learned something today.
-Bob.


Posted by:

Davidb
06 Oct 2017

Uber's company policies scare us off. One ride we did in NYC cost exactly the same as the taxi. In Seattle we use Yellow Cab's App and have found it as good as you describe Uber's although I'm not sure about the address problem you had in a mall. If the driver hasn't been sure of anything they called us.


Posted by:

Mike
06 Oct 2017

I've found overall that Lyft tends to be better. However Lyft has one drawback Uber does not. Lyft always charges a pre authorization fee prior to the ride. I've been charged up to $25 upfront for a $5 trip. Of course the pre authorization fee is always refunded, albeit not always quickly.


Posted by:

Gerry
06 Oct 2017

I have a laptop at home that, I'm guessing, I could D/L the Uber/Lyft app onto to GET picked up...but I have a flip/NON-smart phone. Does either have an 800 number I could call to get picked up for the return trip???


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