This column provides tips, insights, and observations on TNCs like Uber and Lyft from a driver that’s worked with them for several years.
In the ride-hailing app wars, two companies have emerged to compete for dominance of the already crowded market: Uber and Lyft. In the cities where they operate, both services offer a similar experience for a similar price. So does it actually matter which service you choose to get around? Well, Lyft definitely has the more social-media friendly image after The Great PR Disaster that was Uber’s 2017. Despite that, Uber has managed to maintain its crown as the king of market share, accounting for a whopping 74.3% of all trips in the United States, the only country where rival Lyft currently operates.
Other than image, there are some minor differences between Uber and Lyft, but are they enough to actually sway your decision regarding what app you should use? Let’s find out….
You can get an Uber or Lyft in just about every corner of the United States, though there may still be a few areas that aren’t served by one or the other. Even then, in smaller cities especially, you’ll probably find far more Uber vehicles online than Lyft ones.
Traveling abroad? Uber’s the only game in town, unless you’re willing to explore whatever other competing apps are available in your destination country, such as mytaxi in Germany or Grab in Singapore.
There’s really no contest here. Uber’s app is slicker, cleaner, easier to use, and somehow more accurate when it comes to actually showing your driver’s location when they’re on their way to pick you up. You can message your driver, contact customer support, play something on Spotify, and even order UberEats at your destination all within the app. Some people may not care for all of the extra crap that shows up on-screen when you’re in transit, but I find it all easy enough to ignore–you’re probably already on Instagram by then anyway.
Lyft’s app is functional, but frequently kicks you out to your device’s web browser for all but the most basic of tasks. This creates a jarring, and sometimes buggy user experience, especially when compared to Uber’s slick presentation. Lyft’s decision to use text messages in lieu of in-app notifications is downright annoying, as it’s easy to accidentally dismiss the text that tells you your driver has arrived as spam.
Options and Features
The process of selecting and ordering a ride is practically identical between the two apps, a statement that wasn’t true as little as six months ago. On both apps you can select a range of ride and vehicle types fitting every budget from pauper (UberPool and Lyft Line) to prince (Lyft Lux and UberSUV). You can add multiple stops automatically, and you can tip in-app at the end. You can share your ride progress with friends, and split your fare with them as well. You can even schedule rides on both apps, a month in advance with Uber and a week in advance on Lyft.
A good percentage of drivers freelance for both Uber and Lyft, which should tell you that your expectations should be similar regardless of what app you choose. Your experiences are far more likely to vary from driver to driver than they are from app to app. In the cases where a driver decides to stay loyal to only Uber or only Lyft, anecdotes have told me that Uber drivers tend to be more professional while Lyft drivers tend to be more casual and talkative. Again, this is hardly a rule; I’ve had many contradictory experiences. The bottom line is that whether or not you’ll have a pleasant experience with a particular driver has almost nothing to do with the company they’re working for.
Head-to-head competition in most markets has leveled out fare structures to where they’re extremely similar; at base rates, there’s usually less than a five-percent difference between an Uber and a Lyft fare from one place to another. Both companies also have their high-demand pricing (Surge or Prime Time), but interestingly enough the prices rarely increase in lockstep with each other; when Surge pricing is in effect, you can probably find a Lyft cheaper, and vice versa. I should note that both apps will notify you when fares are higher than normal, but unless they’ve gone significantly higher the exact Surge or Prime Time multipliers will be obscured when you get a fare quote.
Amp vs Beacon
Each company has their own technology that’s designed to help you locate your driver when being picked up in a crowded area, like a concert hall or a popular nightlife spot at closing time. Lyft’s Amp, which glows a certain color (you’ll see which one on your app) and will also scroll your name, is available pretty much everywhere, though only veteran drivers have them so far. Uber’s Beacon is simply a light-up windshield logo that glows whatever color you choose from a color wheel in your app, but it’s only available in a few markets at the moment. In my own use I’ve found the light-up toys to be more gimmicky than useful in actually picking my car out of a crowd, when they actually work to begin with. The Amp rarely glows the color it’s supposed to when I’ve used it, and I’ve only seen the name-scrolling feature work twice. Checking for vehicle color and matching license plate is easier, even at night.
Uber’s customer support is legendarily abysmal, but Lyft isn’t that much better. The biggest issue is that it can sometimes take so long to get a response from Lyft support that you’ll get a whole new person that hasn’t bothered to read any of your previous messages and you’ll have to start from square one all over again. At least if you’re persistent enough with Uber’s robotic form-letter replies you can eventually get someone with a human brain. If all else fails you can try yelling at someone on social media. Lyft’s twitter support account is fairly responsive, though Uber’s account at times seems to be run by the same robots that are handling their app support tickets.
In case of emergency, Uber does now offer a crisis line (as of the time of publication, 800-664-1378). Lyft’s crisis line is technically only for drivers, but the page to contact them is pretty easy for anyone to find from their help section. Of course, only call these numbers after you’re out of imminent danger, and call 911 first if necessary.
In the end…
…what service you choose will have less to do with any real differences between them and far more to do with which one is more convenient at the time. Which one has better availability in your area? Which one is cheaper due to Surge or Prime Time variances? Which one’s app icon is closer to your thumb? If you still can’t choose after that, I’d go with Uber just because their app is so much better.
Sekani Wright is an experienced TNC driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!