3/02/2014


A white audi with a pink Lyft mustache on the front.
The company with the pink stache gets its picture featured.
I took my first Uber ride about a year ago. It was 2am, the T had long been closed, and there were no cabs in sight. I wondered how I was going to get from the South End to my comfortable bed in Cambridge. Even though Uber had been in Boston for a while I hadn't tried it just yet, as I heard the pricing was unpredictable. However, things had changed. UberX had just launched in Boston, a service promising lower fares than the "traditional" black car option. I was eager to try it. That first ride was 3.08 miles and cost $23.48 (well, really it was free because I had a credit for my first trip). I've never looked back and haven't ridden in a cab since. However, Uber is no longer the only show in town. The ridesharing market has exploded and consumers have a plethora of on-demand transportation options. But who is better: Uber, Lyft, or Sidecar? I'm by no means an expert, but here is how they compare using four key factors.

Availability of Drivers
Winner: Uber and it's not even close. Loser: Sidecar

Uber consistently seems to have more drivers on the road (at least in Boston). I was out in the Seaport area a few weeks ago and it was approaching last call. Neither Lyft nor Sidecar had any drivers available, and none became available for the next 30 minutes. Uber, however, had multiple drivers ready to pick me up and one fairly close by. This was not an isolated incident. This has happened to me many times, and I am just using UberX as a reference point. If I were to take into account the available black cars or SUV's on Uber, this factor would be even more of a land slide for Uber. On the other hand, Sidecar seems to have the least amount of drivers on the road (even though they were in Boston before Lyft). One time, Sidecar suggested I hail a ride from a driver who was in Lynn, MA. I was in Charlestown, over 12 miles and at least 25 minutes away. I would have been able to use a razor scooter to get home faster. 

Usefulness of the App 
Winner: Sidecar Loser: Uber

iOs Screenshot of all three apps
My mom would have a hard time telling the difference between any of these apps. They all have very similar interfaces and essentially do the same thing, so using one can feel very similar to using another. However, Sidecar has some excellent features that most users might not even know about. First, Sidecar is the only service that will tell you the cost of your ride upfront. It's actually the only service that even asks for your destination. It also lets you pick the exact driver and see a picture of the car before you book. Countless times with Uber, the app has told me that the closest driver is only 5 minutes away, but after booking that particular driver wasn't available and I had to wait much longer than anticipated. With Sidecar, this doesn't happen because you are actually selecting which driver you want. You can favorite drivers, meaning if you become BFFs with your driver on the way home from downing Scorpion Bowls at the Hong Kong, next time you request a ride, if that driver is available, he would show up first. Sidecar also lets you easily block drivers, so if you have an unpleasant experience with a particular driver, *POOF* they are gone from your system (I have heard if you rate a driver less than 3 stars on Uber or Lyft you won't get them again). Uber tells you the model of the car but doesn't even show you a picture of the car or tell you the color (they do give you the license plate #, but most people can't read that without binoculars). So if you can't tell the difference between a Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry, you might just have to guess which car is yours. I actually had a friend who accidentally got into someone else's Uber thinking it was his. There is no mistaking which ride is your Lyft, because there is a giant, pink, furry mustache slapped on the grill. One thing to note though, is that Uber is the only service which lets you specifically request a vehicle capable of carrying more than 4 people - the SUV option (although this could change with Sidecar's new options). However, I think one SUV would end up costing more than taking two separate UberX's, but it comes in handy when you want to travel with your friends or have a ton of luggage to take to the airport.  

Cost
Winner: Lyft, Sidecar & Uber (three-way tie) 

People are always asking me who is cheaper, and to be honest, I haven't noticed much of a difference in price between the three. They are, after all, competing for your business and want to stay competitive with one another. The one caveat is surge pricing. Surge pricing occurs when demand far exceeds supply. To compensate for this, Uber's rates can go as high as 7 times the base fare and the company has been in hot water about it lately (although personally, I have never seen it go higher than 4x). Lyft calls their surge pricing "Prime Time" but it is essentially the same thing (the one difference is that all of Lyft's surcharge goes to the driver as an additional tip, which I guess is supposed to make you feel slightly better about paying it). Sidecar will tell you they have no surcharge pricing, but with their new model, drivers can set their own rates. So any savvy Sidecar driver will up their rate when demand gets high (i.e. if it is snowing/raining or the T is closed). Also, theoretically the nicer the car on Sidecar the more the driver will/can charge. It does seem that Uber's surcharge pricing is always a little higher or stays in effect a little longer than the others, but perhaps this is why they have the most drivers on the road. Also, for those of you who complain about surge pricing, it's simple supply and demand. Higher prices encourage more supply to come online to meet the increased demand. At least you know upfront (and very clearly might I add) before booking the ride that surge or prime time pricing is in effect.

Ride Experience
Winner: Lyft Loser: Uber

I'll be honest, Lyft is my go-to app. You might not have realized that by now, but the reason why is the experience during the ride. Lyft seems to attract the friendliest drivers. When I first heard that Lyft encourages you to sit in the front seat, I thought it was incredibly strange. I was used to jumping in the back of a cab, divided by plexiglass, telling the cabbie my address, and playing on my iPhone while making sure he wasn't taking me the long way home. How would I do this from the front seat of a Lyft? I would be forced to interact with the driver! Turns out that wasn't so terrible; it was actual pleasant. Lyft tries to brand itself as a community-focused company, and they are. Sure, the required fist-bump when you first get in is sort of cheesy, but it also feels like a secret hand shake. The service really does have more of a "call a friend for a ride" feel, especially when compared to either Uber or Sidecar. Many times when getting into a Lyft, I'm asked if I need to charge a phone, if I would like to change the radio station, if I would like some of the bottled water they have conveniently in the back seat, or how about some gum? My favorite burrito place wasn't delivering one night and my Lyft driver actually offered to make a pit stop so I could run inside and order one (I took him up on it). There have been times when I'm taking a Lyft and I'm not in the mood to talk or I need to prep for a meeting, and the drivers totally get that. They won't talk your ear off if they see you're preoccupied with something. To be fair, Sidecar also encourages its users to sit in the front seat, but it just doesn't feel the same, and to be honest maybe I just haven't had enough interactions with Sidecar drivers (but trust me it's not for lack of trying, there just aren't enough of them on the road). UberX still feels at times like a cab - although a much more convenient cab, there isn't that special X factor that Lyft offers.

Verdict

I really do like all of these companies and each one of them, in my opinion, is much better than a cab, and not just for consumers, but for the drivers as well. Some folks say these services aren't as safe as a cab; I think these people are crazy. Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar all do background and vehicle checks. Further, you have no idea who the driver is when a cab picks you up. Unless you pay attention to a cab's medallion number or the driver's name on his operating license, you have no record of the ride. With all of the companies mentioned above there is detailed history stored on servers of your driver's name, where he picked you up, what time he picked you up, where he took you, and how long it took him to get you there. You're practically being watched your entire trip.

By no means is this a complete guide or full-on comparison. I'm sure I missed some pros and cons of each company. However, I encourage everyone to try each service on their own (I list referral codes below). Eventually, a personal favorite will emerge. My favorite is Lyft, but if a Lyft is 25 minutes away and a Sidecar or Uber is down the street, I will choose one of those in a heartbeat. 

Promo Codes

Lyft: use code ryan1353 or this link for $25 off your first ride.
Uber: use code uberrkelly or this link for $20 off your first ride.
Sidecar: no personal promo codes, but a Google search should turn up the most recent code.