April 24, 2015

Best Ride Sharing Apps: Lyft vs Uber vs Sidecar

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When you need a ride, where should you turn? CreditDonkey rates the best ride-sharing services on availability, price, and culture.

© TheTruthAbout (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

Transportation is a necessary expense for every household, but recently we've gained many new options for how to spend that chunk of our budgets. In 2012, around the time The Atlantic was reporting that “a perfect storm of economic and demographic factors” might be to blame for Millennials' indifference to automobile ownership, a new industry (of sorts) was born. These companies provide what is commonly known as ride-sharing services because they're marketed as a friendly stranger giving a person in need a lift. Sometime around 2013, however, they began seeking a new status as “transportation network companies,” the mere facilitators of a service.

Whatever you want to call them, how do you know which one is right for you the next time you need a lift? What screening do the drivers and their vehicles undergo before hitting the road? How long is the average wait for a ride? What do users think of their app? To help you answer these questions and more, CreditDonkey has reviewed the top 3 ride share services (or, um, transportation networks) — Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar — to see how they stack up against each other.

Roundup Methodology

Here are the main factors we considered:

  1. Availability
  2. Culture
  3. Prices

First and foremost, you need to know if the service is available in your town. All 3 companies were founded in San Francisco and have expanded into other metropolitan areas. Each of their apps works similarly. You input your location and are told how far away the nearest ride is, and then you have the option of watching the car arrive on a map. It also gives you the name of your driver, their overall rating, and the type of car they're piloting.

Secondly, since the companies see themselves as mere facilitators, we also weighed the popularity of the culture each has created. Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar each seek to offer a unique service for the passengers, both through their apps and their drivers. We will detail the differences for you and let you know which ones the general public has found to be the most enjoyable.

Finally, we will weigh the average price of a ride and any promotions or additional discounts available. It's hard to keep drivers if no one wants a ride, so some of the transportation network companies offer incentives to current customers to recruit friends while others give the same special deal to everyone. All 3 offer one main benefit over traditional cabs: you never need cash because payments are processed through the mobile apps with the credit card you keep on file.

Best Availability: Uber

  • Availability: 54 countries and approximately 150 cities in North America, hundreds of thousands of drivers (20-minute wait times are considered too long), 5/5
  • Culture: No frills, strictly professional, as close to traditional as you can get by smartphone standards, 4/5
  • Prices: Aims to remain cheaper than taking a cab, rates vary based on demand and speed (in addition to the usual factors), approximately $3 base fare plus $1.50 per mile ($6 minimum) per Engadget, mandatory 20% tip, payments made via registered credit card, 3/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 4/5

Uber began as a network of limousine drivers but added amateurs and taxis to the roster as soon as the market began taking off. Its aim is to keep rates lower than local cab fares (even if drivers object, according to Slate) while simultaneously striving to facilitate ride sharing at a quality level that will make you feel like you have a private chauffeur.

According to Business Insider, “Uber is winning the use case of push a button and a car will show up.” The New Yorker recently pondered if Uber (et al.) will destroy the driving profession, but in the end confirmed that its smartphone technology is transforming the industry — Yellow Cab, for example, is now planning to develop a mobile app to stay competitive. As exemplified in this LA Times article, Uber is often the first ride-sharing experience one tries; it is one of the services endearing customer after customer to the peer-to-peer economy.

Why We Like It
Although it's unknown exactly how many drivers the company has in most towns, Uber begins accepting driver applications long before launching service to ensure it has a plentiful supply of independent contractors ready to provide prompt, courteous service. Uber's app gives you the option of entering your destination to receive an estimate of the total fare for your ride, but doesn't require it, which is nice if you're in a hurry and don't want to type all that information (or, better yet, if you're headed to a neighborhood where drivers will have a hard time finding a customer for the return trip). Uber's app even has a built-in feature for splitting the fare easily with friends so you won't get stuck tracking IOUs or footing more than your fair share of the bill.

Its Downsides
Uber has a constantly shifting rate structure called surge pricing. It charges more for a ride when the demand is high and less when demand is low, reportedly to encourage drivers to be available when the need is highest. You will be notified in bold typeface anytime surge pricing is in effect, and you’re required to type in the surge multiplier to confirm you understand what rates to expect anytime rates are more than double. Uber's rates come close to equaling traditional cab fares under normal conditions and thus exceed them when surge pricing is in effect, leaving some customers feeling exploited. (To subdue the brewing backlash during snowstorms, Wired reported, Uber capped prices at 2.8 times the normal fare and committed to donating all proceeds to the American Red Cross to support relief efforts.)

Who It Works Best For
Those who want traditional cab service (or better) and are willing to pay a variable rate.

Best Culture: Lyft

  • Availability: 60 U.S. cities, precise number of drivers unknown, but generally considered second to Uber, 4/5
  • Culture: Cars easily recognizable by a pink mustache, drivers greet customers with a fist bump and a smile, 5/5
  • Prices: Moderate to low prices, $2.25 base fare plus $1.35 per mile ($5 minimum) per Engadget, 4/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 4.3/5

According to Tech Crunch, part of the reason behind the pink “carstache” is the fact the company originally pondered gearing the service towards women. Instead, it decided to create a car service that could make any customer feel like they were hitching a ride with a friend. Lyft aims to recruit personable, outgoing drivers who will be happy to go out of their way to enhance the customer's experience by letting the passenger pick the music, providing mints or gum, or retrieving a food order on the way to the rendezvous point.

According to a story in GeekWire, Lyft's “Trust and Safety Team” exerts just as much effort to ensure their customers' contentment, calling promptly after traffic accidents are reported and following up repeatedly to ensure all parties involved receive proper attention and care. In an attempt to woo customers who may have been put off by the furry pink carstaches, the same bold identifier that has attracted most of their customers thus far, Wired reports that Lyft has begun an attempt to mature its brand image by replacing the carstache with a much smaller “glowstache,” which sits inside the windshield on the dash.

Why We Like It
Lyft has created a culture much closer to what one imagines the ride-sharing trend to be. The pink mustache logo makes its vehicles easily identifiable while the required fist bump and friendly drivers make you feel right at home. The company aims to make you feel like you're carpooling all the time, even if you're the only one in the car, and now offers a service quite similar to a traditional carpool in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It’s called Lyft Line, and it differs from the regular service in that it helps you hitch a ride with other customers headed in the same direction so you can lower your cost even further. Even when catching a Lyft solo, you will generally spend several dollars less than you would taking a cab. Furthermore, with Lyft's “suggested donation” pricing structure, you retain full control of the size tip the driver receives.

Possibly the best benefit is the fact that Lyft will give you a $200+ credit for recruiting 10 friends, and each of your friends will receive $20+ credits towards their first rides.

Its Downsides
Like Uber, Lyft operates under a calculated roll-out plan, which ensures the service isn't available in new towns until enough drivers are ready to serve. However, possibly due to the fact that drivers earn more working for Uber, Lyft lags behind in number of cities and drivers.

In order to make referring friends and earning ride-share credits easier, Lyft now requires all customers to authenticate their identity through Facebook.

Who It Works Best For
Those who live in a major metropolitan area and have a Facebook account they won't mind linking to their Lyft account.

Best Prices: Sidecar

  • Availability: Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Washington, DC, Boston, and Charlotte, 2/5
  • Culture: Feel of a carpool, just a neighbor picking up a neighbor, 3/5
  • Prices: Tells you how much the ride will cost before you order the ride, rock-bottom pricing, 5/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 3.7/5

Sidecar's business model differs slightly from its competitors in that it offers customers the ability to “rate shop” and choose a ride based on vehicle, ETA, and a pre-negotiated price. It doesn't matter if the ride takes longer than expected due to traffic, your “suggested donation” will match exactly what you agreed to when you ordered the ride.

Business Insider praised Sidecar's pricing structure and pointed out that, since drivers set their own rates, it's often easier to find an inexpensive fare. According to The New York Times, Sidecar has introduced a package delivery service that will allow the company to compete not only with the perks its direct competitors have offered for quite some time, but also with the same-day delivery services of Amazon and Google. Which is to say, your fare may remain cheapest with Sidecar because you will now ride along with another customer's food or parcels.

Why We Like It
Sidecar offers the most casual ride-share experience and the lowest prices. Although Sidecar often has fewer vehicles available, it offers the ability to book an occupied driver whose end destination is near you to increase efficiency.

Its Downsides
Sidecar's drivers are complete amateurs, screened only by a smartphone application, according to the Ride Share Dashboard. Furthermore, drivers and passengers are not automatically covered by Sidecar's insurance in case of an accident.

Who It Works Best For
Anyone primarily concerned with obtaining the lowest price for a ride will love Sidecar, assuming the service is available in their area.

Other Ride-Sharing Options to Consider

© Allie Michelle (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Perhaps before too long, Google's self-driving vehicles will be available to you (that's Bloomberg's prediction). Until then, visit What's the Fare or use Taxi Fare Finder to quickly figure out which service offers the best rate for your ride. Or, if you're looking for something akin to a car rental rather than a cab ride, check out RelayRides. Whatever your transportation needs may be, we hope our research has helped you decide which service to try.

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Comments about Best Ride Sharing Apps: Lyft vs Uber vs Sidecar

  • Jake Wall from Washington
    on October 2, 2015 3:38 PM said:

    Sidecar will go the way of the Dinosaur. Lyft and Uber will continue to compete, Uber will win out and take the largest market share, but Lyft will never completely go away.

    I drive for both Lyft and Uber, and I prefer to drive for Lyft. They allow tipping and uphold better values as a company. With that said, I end up taking more rides with Uber because more passengers use that app.

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