Ah, Uber. The monster ride service that is such a How-did-I-ever-live-without-it? part of modern life that it spawned imitators in the ride space, as well as Uber-esque services that applied the on-demand concept to laundry with Rinse, to takeout with DoorDash, and convenience store items with Postmates. The company’s main, direct competitor is Lyft, which also allows you to order up a ride in most U.S. cities with a couple swipes on your smartphone. But how exactly do theses two companies two stack up? Who was first? Which is best for passengers? Which is best for drivers? We thought it would be fun to compare these two ride-hailing giants, in this episode of The Infographics Show, Uber vs Lyft.
As for who was first on the scene, the answer is actually neither. Fun fact: someone got the idea way back in 2002. The founder of Sidecar patented the basic idea – apparently not thoroughly enough – back then, but only offered service 9 years later in 2011. The first real-time network for ride service began to usurp taxis, airport car services, and public transportation options as a logical choice for American urbanites. But the company shut down in 2015 after Uber and Lyft expanded aggressively enough to prove insurmountable as competitors.
Uber and Lyft are both headquartered in San Francisco, and while rideshare and the more accurate ridehail are used to describe the services, their official sector is transportation network, or TNC. The term was created by a California state government agency just to establish a framework to begin to regulate ridehail in 2013.
Uber cars are distinctive for its square in a broken circle logo on a windshield sticker, what used to be a U. Lyft, meanwhile, has a pink mustache on the dashboard or grill, or its own windshield sticker.
Uber was conceived in 2009 and launched as a mobile app in 2011. Lyft previously existed as Zimride before re-incorporating as Lyft in May 2012. Uber has had more cash on hand, raising a total of $8.81 billion in 14 fundraising rounds from 79 investors since 2009. Lyft, counting its earlier incarnation as Zimride, has pulled in just $2.61 billion.
Since it’s been known as Lyft, the company has raised $2.53 billion. Put a different way, Uber has effectively attracted about three-and-a-half times the investor cash that Lyft has, as of April 2017. Major score for Team Black over Team Pink.
With that cash, Uber has expanded globally, now operating in at least 570 cities, while Lyft is in 500 U.S. cities. But both of these neck-and-neck competitors overstate their presence a little, as each has cities and boroughs within a larger, also-listed metropolitan area, like Santa Monica and Pasadena listed along with Los Angeles. So the full count is probably closer to 540 global cities for Uber, and about 475 U.S. cities for Lyft.
Estimates circulate, but hard numbers on their profits are unavailable, as they are privately held.
Because many contracted drivers work both apps, it’s hard to peg the actual market share of each company. Regardless of current share of faithful drivers or riders, both have to watch their backs, as female-focused ride services create a new niche and pull business from these leaders. Southern California has See Jane Go, while Safr launched in Boston with plans to expand on the East Coast.
So, which company has more service options for you? Uber has spawned a bike courier division and has UberEATS to compete with the business that DoorDash and Postmates pull away, but the company otherwise goes head to head with Lyft on four identical service types: economy fare for an individual rider that could be anything from a compact to luxury car (Uber X or standard Lyft), something bigger for groups (Uber XL or Lyft Plus), luxury cars (UberBLACK or Lyft Premier), or a carpooling option frequently patronized as a carpooling or public transit alternative on one’s daily commute (UberPOOL or Lyft Line).
How about the advantage for drivers? If you want to hit the road to earn extra cash on your own schedule, as those Uber commercials promise, which company really is better? Uber does not have a tip function in its customer-facing app, while Lyft does. It seems Lyft has the earnings advantage, but according to SherpaShare, a dashboard for drivers to manage their side hustles, self-reported data tabulated in 2015 showed that Uber drivers took in, on average, $13.36 per trip while Lyft drivers earned $12.53.
Where Lyft one-ups Uber is in recruitment cash. Lyft’s Ambassador program can be lucrative, and does not require one to be a driver in order to recruit drivers. This is a big boost for Team Pink, as it gets non-drivers talking about the company with everyone they know, circulating the brand and its advantages in social circles.
But Uber will back your lease so you can get a new car with great fuel economy, like the Uber-popular Prius, even with middling credit. Meanwhile Lyft has a rental program with fewer model choices.
With either company, you can boost your income by running advertising in your backseat or offering product demos, taking advantage of the ever-growing number of options to side hustle your side hustle. Those options come from third party companies, not the ride apps themselves. You might have to consider these options, as both companies vary their pricing. That is, they make your earnings unpredictable.
Uber has taken more public heat for its variable pricing, slashing ride fares and cutting drivers’ earnings, and spiking its pricing in times of high demand, like a New York snowstorm, gouging its customers.
For what you do earn, both companies have options to cash out sooner, rather than the previous system of a weekly payday. Uber’s Instant Pay works the same as Lyft’s Express Pay, while a third party app, DailyPay, is now available to Uber drivers, as well as the contractors of Fasten, DoorDash, and Instacart. Lyft led the charge here, giving drivers the option to cash out sooner starting in 2015, with Uber quick on its heels to stay competitive.
Both Uber and Lyft, privately held and with minimal disclosure requirements, exist somewhat in mystery, and have acquired their urban legends. What is really happening behind closed doors? How much are they actually profiting? We only know what leaks out, but there has been plenty.
When it comes to scandal, Uber takes the cake. The company was caught trying to dig up dirt that could smear a critical journalist in 2014, has endured a stream of news over the last few years that raise questions about the actual safety of the service, and faced a #DeleteUber campaign when drivers continued to serve U.S. airports where citizens were protesting restrictive immigration policies and pushing for a boycott in January 2017.
Lyft pledged to donate $1 million to the ACLU after the airport incident, issuing an open letter to users via email. The company appeared to announce its own culture to the world, but it was also an opportunity to smack its opponent while it was down.
Uber then committed to a $3 million legal defense fund for immigrants who might be unfairly targeted by Trump Administration policies, but didn’t specify the agencies that would receive the funding or what kind of cases they would take.
That was all before Uber engineer Susan Fowler exited the company in February 2017 after battling what she says was a documented and protected culture of sexism, and the company’s data gathering program Greyball, used to avoid authorities who might impose regulation on the semi-legal company, came to light in March 2017.
Meanwhile a taxi and limo lobby maintains the website Who’s Driving You?, where safety incidents involving ride hail are meticulously documented.
So, which ride hail service do you prefer, and why?! Let us know in the comments.