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Cab Service Apps – Uber vs Lyft: Whose Ride is it, Anyway?

February 13, 2017

This is likely a familiar situation:

You step into a Lyft in any US city, and you ask them the inevitable question: Do you also drive for Uber?


How many times do you think drivers hear this a day? And for good reason: in cities where both services exist, the differences are often not well-understood, given that both will get you from point A to point B with often a similar amount of waiting time. And the pricing can be similar enough not to make much of a difference. They inevitably share a large number of employees as a result.

If you ask drivers (who drive for both) which they prefer, you’ll often get answers like “Lyft riders are friendlier,” or “I like the Lyft community.” But in terms of what the actual differences are, we explored this question, and before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s first break down the experiences themselves.

Ride Tiers

Let’s start with Lyft. When you ride in a regular Lyft, you’ll have room for up to 4 passengers. Lyft Plus is a bit pricier, but can accommodate up to 6. Lyft Premier is a luxury car only available in select cities (specifically Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City). Then, there’s Lyft Line, which is a carpooling option to pool your ride with other riders heading in the same direction. Inevitably, it’s the cheapest of the four options.

Uber, like Lyft, has similar tiers. A regular UberX can accommodate 4 riders, and is the standard version of the service. UberXL seats up to 6 (like Lyft Plus). UberSelect is their luxury equivalent with BMWs, Audis, and other luxury vehicles. UberPOOL is their carpool version, similar to Lyft line. Their most expensive offering is UberBLACK, a luxury line for the black SUV or luxury sedan. Last, UberASSIST is designed to accommodate passengers with disabilities, with additional app features as well such removing calling as an option for those who have signed into the app as hard of hearing.

The Beginning

How did these ridesharing services become so pervasive? Uber hit the market first. The original pitch, back in 2008, was for co-founder and CEO Travls Kalanick to, with his co-founder, “split the costs of a driver, a Mercedes S Class and a parking spot in a garage, so that [they] could use an iPhone app to get around San Francisco on-demand.”

Come mid-2009, that prototype started coming to life as a side project, with Kalanick overseeing its San Francisco launch. He said that this didn’t go exactly as planned, with he and his co-founder ‘both [thinking] the business was going to be pretty low-tech, mostly operational — little did we know.” Finally, in 2010 they did their first test-run with 3 cars in NYC, and they got their first hire, with a San Francisco launch on May 31, 2010.

Then, there’s Lyft, which actually started off as a spinoff of a previous business called Zimride. At 2013’s TechCrunch Disrupt, Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green discussed its early days, where, at a hackathon, they were “’trying to figure out what Zimride [would] look like on mobile.’” Its official launch date was May 22, 2012, when Zimride launched Lyft to give Uber a run for its money in urban settings. Zimride, in parallel, also had a few other separate programs, like carpooling for longer distances or campus-wide car sharing programs within college campuses. When the Lyft portion of their business outgrew the other parts, they decided to focus.

Potato, Po-TAH-to

Ever since, the companies have continued to go neck-and-neck with initiatives – from their driver recruitment initiatives (Uber’s, Lyft’s) to their app features. When one company tries something that seems to be working, the other seems to follow suit not long after; for instance, Lyft now allows users to see the rates before their ride — just like Uber. Even in terms of pricing, they have the exact same rates in cities like San Francisco (both currently at $0.22 per minute and $1.15 per mile.) In terms of some of their differences as of this writing, here’s a few examples:

Geography Global, with a presence in 525 cities worldwide within North, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand More than 200 US markets; for international expansion, they’ve partnered with Didi in China and Grab in Southeast Asia
Mission Creating possibilities for riders, drivers and cities In 2015, Lyft tweeted: Our mission is to reconnect people through transportation and bring communities together.
Tips Does not allow driver tips Allows (and encourages) tips for the driver
Anonymous Feedback for Drivers Allows Does not allow
Driver Incentives Bonus progress hit-or-miss Gamified approach with a milestone progress bar
Passenger Photo Does not show to driver Shows to driver
Driver Pay View Shows per ride Shows total amount

Effectively the services are the same, with more of a community/driver-oriented approach coming from Lyft and Uber seemingly focused more on scale. For a full breakdown of Uber features, you can view them here.  It often takes dramatic events like the #deleteuber campaign to make a dent in a user avidly prefer one service over the other (in fact, the campaign allowed Lyft to climb from #39 to #7 on the App Store). But as they keep each other on their toes in terms of feature sets, incentives and more, we’re looking forward to seeing how they evolve in the future with some of their experimental initiatives: self-driving rides and even helicopter or boat options.

One thing is for sure: this healthy competition will keep the experience fresh for users. So nobody’s complaining.

Except for maybe the cab companies.

What new features should Uber and Lyft introduce? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!