Lyft vs. Uber: Which Rideshare App Is Best?

Mobile app Uber and Lyft on a Apple iPhone XR
Anatoliy Sizov / Getty Images

Rideshare apps have become the new standard for travelers who want to get around in a car without renting one or using a taxi. Ride-sharing has changed how we move around and can help you save big time on travel expenses. Two apps dominate the rideshare market: Uber and Lyft. But is one better to use than the other?

A Brief History of Lyft and Uber

The idea for Uber began when founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp were stuck in Paris, unable to call a cab. As the two called several taxi services around the city, they had an idea, wouldn’t it be easy if they could request a ride from their phone? In 2009, Kalanick and Camp took that idea to San Francisco’s streets with UberCab, and on July 5, 2010, a black town car transported the first Uber passenger. In October 2010, Uber dropped the Cab from its name and started launching global service.

Lyft has similar beginnings. Programmers Logan Green and John Zimmer founded the carpooling company Zimride in 2007 after becoming tired of joining carpools through Craigslist. Green and Zimmer took advantage of the new Facebook Connect application to link drivers and riders for a less anonymous service. Zimride connected riders taking longer trips (like Los Angeles to Santa Barbara), and in May 2012, Lyft was launched to handle short trips. After an explosion in popularity, Zimride changed its name to Lyft, and the company shifted focus entirely to short rides in May 2013.

Lyft vs. Uber Basic Pricing

Because they are in direct competition, there are no clear-cut winners on pricing for Lyft and Uber pricing. If Lyft were much cheaper than Uber, Uber would go out of business, and vice-versa. Basic rideshare costs are approximately $1 to start, $2 per mile, and $0.25 per minute. Actual pricing depends on availability, your destination, and your route, along with other factors. The best way to compare prices is to check the fare before booking your trip. Open both apps and select your destination to compare fares. It’s a little tedious, but saving a couple of bucks can add up to a lot of savings.

Surge Pricing

Rideshares are most expensive during surge times or times of heavy user traffic. During rush hour, inclimate weather, and after major events, you can expect Uber and Lyft to raise prices significantly. Both apps let you know when pricing has risen (known as Surge Pricing on Uber and Prime Time on Lyft), but Uber has more features to help you calculate surge prices.

Surge and high traffic times are the most important for comparing fares. Uber calculates its surge prices with a multiplier model, while Lyft uses a percentage-based formula. This means that the price for the same ride could have a very different price on each app. You can usually get away with choosing your favorite rideshare app for most rides but always check fares for both during heavy traffic times.

Different Options for Different Budgets

Both Uber and Lyft offer different pooling options to help you save. You share your ride with other nearby passengers in carpooling rideshares for a discounted rate. Carpooling options generally take longer than standard rides, but it is much cheaper. Uber’s sharing feature is UberPool, while Lyft offers Shared and Shared Saver rides. You can see your carpooling options on both services before booking your ride. UberPool rides require a short walk to a meeting point convenient for the driver. Shared Saver rides with Lyft also require a short walk, but Shared rides do not.

Pro Tip: A shared ride doesn’t guarantee that your driver will pick someone else up, but the discounts apply.

Availability

Uber has more drivers in more cities worldwide and is more established than Lyft, though Lyft has now proliferated in most major American cities. If you’re in a major (or even minor) American city, you should expect availability from both apps. The big difference comes when you step out of the country. Currently, Uber offers service in 65 countries, while Lyft only provides service in the U.S. and nine Canadian cities.

Customer Service

If something goes wrong, you want an efficient and helpful service, especially if your money is on the line. Both companies offer outreach services via email, website, in-app support, and an emergency line. Unfortunately, as they’ve grown, both companies are behind on customer service, but Lyft has had better overall customer service ratings. Uber has many predetermined responses on the help portion of their app and site, but Lyft takes more time with individual problems and gives more direct answers.

Tipping

A rideshare app is like a cab where tipping is expected, but do you have to tip? Both Uber and Lyft offer one-tap tipping options to show appreciation for a driver, but you are never under an obligation to tip. Use your judgment and the quality of the ride to determine the tip amount; 10 to 20 percent for a good ride is standard. When traveling outside the U.S., double-check tipping customs.

Don’t Choose One, Try Both

Both Uber and Lyft can save you plenty compared to taxis, and both have similar prices. With similar features, options, and prices, it’s tough to recommend one over the other, so try both. Play around with both apps and take advantage of money-saving options like instant fare comparison to get easy rides and low prices.

Are Other Rideshare Apps More Budget-Friendly?

Lyft and Uber dominate the rideshare market, but they aren’t the only options. Though availability is much smaller, competitors may be a cheaper option. In the Middle East, Careem is a popular option, while other local variations like BlaBlaCar, Gett, and others proliferate elsewhere in the world.

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