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Thinking Of Dumping Uber? Here's How Its Competitor Lyft Compares

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Uber hatred has been peaking lately—you might even call it surging—leaving all of us who rely on the service looking for another ride-sharing alternative.

This week it was revealed that the service had a creepy plan to spend $1 million to dig up dirt in the private lives of journalists it considers enemies. But this isn't the first time we got a whiff of its troubling company culture. It tried to sabotage its competitor Lyft by ordering and canceling over 5,000 rides. Its surge-pricing means that customers have been charged more than a plane ride to Hawaii. It's been accused of suffering from a “blame the passenger” culture.

So we're using this opportunity to look into the pros and cons of Lyft, one of its largest competitors, whose role is especially important as an alternative in cities like Los Angeles where taxis are far and few between.

BACKGROUND: Lyft started in our nation's disruption capital San Francisco in 2012. It was initially envisioned as a more casual ride-sharing service, almost a modern-day version of hitch-hiking. It had a distinctly different vibe than Uber, which started as a black car service. Drivers always used to greet you in a way that a Fox News host might call a "terrorist fist jab." They used to ask you to sit in the front and chat like a friend, so that it didn't feel quite so formal. They put pink mustaches on their cars. Payment was theoretically voluntary at first. All of that changed as cities and states started pushing for more regulation and the company grew. Now the app mostly works more like its competitors.

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HOW IT WORKS: In 65 cities, you can download Lyft's app, upload your credit card info, drop a pin to let your driver know where to pick you up and wait. If you get fussy waiting for your driver, you can call or text to see what's up. If you cancel after making the request, you could face a cancellation fee. When the drive is over, the app will tell you how much you owe. Afterward, you can rate your driver and your driver will rate you. If you have a habit of puking in cars, keeping your driver waiting or generally being a jerk, you might not get picked up after a while because of your low rating.

PRICING: The base fare, minimums, per mile and per minute rates vary by city, which you can check out here. (Here are the rates for Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, DC, San Francisco.) The receipt you get doesn't automatically break down your ride, but you can request an automatic audit. Lyft drivers get 80% of the fare (read on about both below).

YOUR RIDE: Most of the drivers who will pick you up seem to be operating sedans (the rule is it's gotta be a 2000 model or newer). But if you have a bigger group and need up to six seats or you have a lot of cargo, you can call up LyftPlus and they'll send an SUV your way. The LyftPlus program was originally envisioned as a way of breaking into the high-end market, but it didn't work out so well. They cut the rates, so LyftPlus now costs 1.5 times what a regular old Lyft ride does.

TIPPING: Lyft makes it easy to tip your driver for those of us who don't regularly carry cash. At the end of your ride, you can add on a few bucks to your bill pretty easily. A Lyft spokesman said they recently updated their app to make it even easier: "Passengers are now shown preset dollar amounts on the first post-ride payment screen, allowing them to quickly and easily tip their driver with one tap." Lyft tells us 100% of tips go to its drivers, and the company says its drivers have earned $6 million in tips in the last year.

That's very different than their main competitor: Uber claims that tipping is included in the rates it sets so it doesn't offer any way for customers to tip their drivers, and that was one of the early appeals of the service when it started. But drivers say that's no longer the case as competition between ride-sharing services have driven rates down. In Los Angeles, Uber drivers recently staged protests asking for tips.

PEAK HOURS: Lyft charges a premium during peak hours in a program called PrimeTime. The company says that they do this to incentivize more drivers to get on the road when demand is high. Customers have to agree to the "PrimeTime" charge before calling a Lyft, so that they don't suffer from sticker shock at the end. We've heard of riders being charged up to double the usual rates but not (yet)7.75x the standard rate like Uber.

AVAILABILITY: It's tough to quantify just how well Lyft has penetrated the markets of the 65 U.S. cities where it's available, so we used Yelp as proxy (we figure the more rides, the more reviews). Based on the sheer number of reviews, the company's presence seems to be strongest on the West Coast. It received nearly 300 reviews in the tech hub of San Francisco (compared to Uber's 512), 124 in Los Angeles (compared to Uber's 443) but 20 or fewer reviews in Chicago, DC and New York City. It turns out the Lyft experience wildly varies from city to city. A man from San Diego says that he doesn't recognize the Lyft he remembers back home: "I'm a new transplant from the west coast where Lyft is everything the cab isnt: friendly, cheap and accountable. Lyft here in DC has been a nightmare."

I've had my own recent bicoastal experience with the app. Most of the time I use Lyft in Los Angeles. However, in the last few weeks, I found myself switching back to the Uber app to catch a predawn flight (the nearest Lyft was too far away for my tight timetable) and then to get around New York City, where Lyft is a rarer bird. I was able to request a Lyft pretty easily after a weekday happy hour in Brooklyn while 25% PrimeTime pricing was in effect. But then on a Saturday afternoon, I waited 10 minutes for Lyft, in which the driver didn't seem to be headed my direction and was already much later than the app promised. When I called the driver, he said it would be 20 minutes. He was the nearest driver. I asked him to cancel the call and I called up an UberTaxi—a special service available in NYC that calls up a regular old cab. It arrived within five minutes.

For that last attempt, I was in a relatively remote section of Brooklyn, but here's a busier area around 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday: Times Square. This gives you a sense of how much more available Uber is in NYC (to say nothing of all the cabs!):

CUSTOMER SERVICE: Lyft has one of the same issues that we hear about Uber. Customers find it frustrating there isn't a customer service phone number so you can talk to a live human to help quickly resolve any non-emergency issues that arise. Instead, customers are routed through e-mail and sometimes all they get back is an automated reply. That's not always satisfying. The Better Business Bureau has only received five complaints about Lyft, but it has given the company, like its competitor Uber, an "F" in part because of their poor responses.

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It's worth noting that like Uber, Lyft does have a section dedicated to lost and found items. And in case of an emergency, there is a hotline for a Critical Response Team that you can call 24/7: 855-865-9553. A Seattle man who got hit while riding in a Lyft gave the team high marks for their response.

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