Personally, I’m against mustaches on cars. I’m not a particularly flashy person, but if you’re going to be hopping a ride with Lyft, you better get used to it.
If you haven’t heard of Lyft now, think of it as Uber’s slightly hippier cousin. Whereas Uber is very much billed as black car service type of deal, Lyft is in theory a community-oriented ride-sharing program. There are a lot of things that are remarkably similar, though, despite the facades they project to the general public.
At the end of the day, look, I just need to get where I’m going. I’ve taken all modes of transport from jeepney to Rolls Royce (just once! I was on assignment for Jetsetter), and how I get to my destination doesn’t really matter to me. So for once, for the sake of travel and science, I ignored the pink mustache.
Just like its competitor Uber, Lyft primarily uses a mobile app to detect your location and assigns your request to a nearby car. You also can’t request a car in advance. Though it’s not as fully featured as Uber’s app which now includes fare splitting, it gets the job done. The app is available for iOS or Android.
At one point in time, you can select how much each driver receives, but that’s pretty much gone by the wayside; Lyft’s donation system seems to be on the way out in favor of mandatory pricing. Payments are pretty much tied to a credit card associated with your account in favor of a cashless system. The e-mail receipts are more basic than Uber’s, but still retain the fundamentals such as time and distance.
Because the whole entire service is supposedly designed to be more inclusive, the cars don’t seem to be as new or well-kept as Uber cars, but on the flip side, the service seems to be slightly cheaper (keep reading) so you get what you pay for. Lyft drivers, in general, though, seem to be more interesting characters: one driver to the Oakland airport dared me to a cookie contest during the ride.
Lyft’s policy is more flexible, all things considered. If a rider cancels a Lyft request more than five minutes from when it’s made, you’re “charged” $5. This is substantially different from Uber’s policy, which provides no leeway and charges a cancellation fee once a request is made. Depending on the city, Uber can charge more than $5 for the cancelled request.
One of the key benefits of using Lyft in the past was the lack of surge pricing, which is this horrible thing Uber does to jack up the price a bajillion-fold when demand is rampant. Unfortunately, in the last week of 2013, Lyft introduced its new surge pricing feature, known as “Prime Time Tips.” I haven’t ran into any instances where this was in effect yet, but the company has made very clear that the extra tips go directly to the driver.
As for the argument as for who’s cheaper, well, there’s always going to be the price war between UberX, the low-cost version of Uber, and Lyft. Uber recently slashed the prices of UberX last week, declaring that it was cheaper than its competitors and most taxis now. Then, of course, Lyft has always claimed the service is about 30 percent cheaper than a similar cab ride. I say we let the numbers speak for themselves.
To test the prices of each program, I recently used both services between the same two sets of addresses in San Francisco, between Nob Hill and the Lower Haight. The UberX ride ended up costing $13 while the Lyft ride clocked in at $12. After the price slash, UberX estimates the same fare will now cost $9 and $11, which is awesome if you don’t have to pay Uber’s surge pricing.
If the pricing stays—which is doubtful—I would prefer Uber over Lyft’s program for several reasons. Not only is it cheaper, you can also now split the fare between multiple passengers. However, there are others I know that prefer Lyft for the general friendliness of the drivers. It also now has a stronger referral program, but that's only really helpful if you know tons of people who need a ride.
In one really stark difference, Lyft's rates are nowhere as transparent as Uber's rates, which is a definite downside. It makes it difficult to gauge which service is more budget-friendly although Lyft has similar pricing as its competitors. If you sign up through this link, you can get $20 off your first ride (I also get $20 but everyone benefits, no?). To be fair, Uber is also offering a discount on your first ride with them.
Update: From now until February 22, 2015, Lyft is offering $70 off their first 11 rides ($5 off the first 10 rides, $20 off the eleventh ride). Not a shabby value if you're planning on using Lyft Line.
To get a better idea to figure out which car service is in your best interest, you would have to know UberX’s pricing for your specific city since they vary in every single market. With the new rates and without surge pricing, I would lean toward UberX. However, without any of those in effect, I would pick Lyft for the benefit of my wallet.
Lyft is mostly available in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Nashville, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Paul, and Washington D.C., though the company has indicated plans to expand.