Need to catch a ride to the airport, home from a party or somewhere else? You might call upon a ride-sharing app — also and perhaps more accurately known as ride-hailing apps. The most famous of these by far is Uber, but there are countless rivals that operate in the same basic manner: open a smartphone app and summon a driver who'll pick you up and drive you to your destination. Think of it as the 21st-century, smartphone-enabled successor to the taxi.
These apps service a specific role in the new mobility landscape. They're different from, say, car-sharing services, where you rent out a car to drive for yourself for a short period (think Zipcar or Car2Go), and they're also distinct from car subscription services, where you sign up for a flexible type of car leasing. These ride-hailing services are specifically designed around having somebody else do the driving for you.
Ride-sharing services are probably not an economical choice if, say, you need to commute a long distance to your job every single day. But for other journeys where driving doesn't make sense, these apps can be hugely helpful. Here's our guide to what you need to know about the major players in the ride-sharing space.
Without question the best known — and, owing to several high-profile scandals, perhaps the most infamous — ride-hailing app, Uber started operations in 2010. As of November 2018, the company says it has provided 4 billion trips worldwide, with Uber operating in more than 600 cities in over 65 countries; 15 million Uber trips are claimed to be completed each day.
Uber allows users to select their destination on the company's smartphone app and request a ride; nearby drivers can then choose to come and pick up the user. Uber also allows for scheduling a ride in advance, or for saving costs by carpooling with others by choosing the Uberpool option. Prices can rise when a lot of people are using Uber — e.g., during rush hour or inclement weather — and are reflected with so-called surge pricing. One recent addition is Ride Pass, which for $14.99 per month (or $24.99/month in Los Angeles) guarantees users will receive low fares even in periods of high demand.
Uber is also pursuing multiple other avenues of business growth. The company was testing self-driving vehicles, but stopped after an autonomous prototype was involved in a fatal crash. The company is also rolling out electric scooters and previously acquired the Jump bike-sharing service, believing those modes of transport will make more sense for short journeys. Long-term, Uber has even hinted it wants to develop flying cars.
Lyft is perhaps the second best-known ride-sharing service after Uber. It started in 2012 and, as of September 2018, said users had completed 1 billion rides, with 10 million rides every week. Lyft is available in all 50 US states as well as Ontario, Canada. Lyft users use a smartphone app to pick their destination and request a ride from a driver. Riders can also save money by splitting rides with other Lyft users; the company calls this Shared Rides.
Lyft has recently trialed some different pricing strategies. For instance, Lyft offered a 30-day ride subscription plan that costs $299 per month and has tried out promotions to encourage users to stop using their personal cars in favor of the app. The company also has a new deal with AAA that would give members free rides to and from car-repair facilities.
Waze began as a crowd-sourced navigation app, but it's now offering a ride-sharing feature called Waze CarPool. Drivers can opt to search for and pick up other people who might be taking a similar journey. Drivers can set a price for the ride, while prospective riders can search for people with whom they might want to commute. Waze doesn't appear to intend (at least for now) this to become a full-time, gig-economy type app, as drivers can only drive two carpools each day. Instead, the goal appears to be helping reduce traffic during busy commuting periods. The service is currently offered nationwide in the US.
RideAustin is, as its name suggests, a ride-hailing app unique to the greater Austin, Texas metro area. A nonprofit, the service launched in June 2016 after Uber and Lyft both pulled out of the Austin area; the companies complained that Austin laws required ride-hail drivers be fingerprinted as part of a background check. After state law changed in 2017, both companies returned to Austin, but RideAustin continues to operate.
RideAustin works mostly like Uber, Lyft and most other ride-sharing apps. Smartphone users can request a ride via the RideAustin smartphone app, though it doesn't support carpooling or scheduling rides in advance. The app also has a Female Driver Mode that allows women to request only female drivers. A Round Up feature allows riders to "round up" their fare to the next dollar amount, with the extra change donated to local Austin-area charities.
BMW's ReachNow service is primarily focused on car-sharing, but it does have limited ride-hailing options in Seattle, Washington. (BMW claims it's the only service letting you choose to ride or drive from one app.) As the name suggests, your ride will always be in a BMW, and ReachNow promises you can use its app to preselect the radio station and climate-control temperature in the car. There's also no surge pricing and you can schedule a ride up to seven days ahead of time.
Safr is a ride-sharing app aimed only at women riders and drivers. The service has an extensive background check to bolster safety and also says it pays its drivers more than some other ride-share apps, noting that female ride-share drivers tend to earn a third less than men when driving for other services. The service is currently available only in Boston, but Safr says on its website, "we will continue to launch in new cities as soon as we can."
HopSkipDrive is ride-sharing for kids. Parents can order and schedule rides for children aged 6 and older using the smartphone app. For safety, the company says it fingerprints and certifies its drivers, additionally requiring that they have at least five years of child-care experience. Kids also get a "code word" to confirm the person picking them up is the right driver, and parents can monitor the ride online remotely. Parents can also coordinate a carpool through the app with other parents.
Based in San Francisco, Wingz is a newer ride-hailing app that currently serves 16 metro areas and 22 airports in the US; you can find the full list of regions on the company's website. Though in general similar to the likes of Uber and Lyft, Wingz does offer a few unique features. Riders can book a trip up to two months ahead of time, there's no surge pricing during busy periods, and riders can request a specific driver with whom they've got a good relationship.
Ride-share startups Gett and Juno joined together to form one service, which currently operates in New York City in the US. (Gett has some operations in other countries.) Juno promises it gives its drivers a higher commission than some rival apps and that it only accepts drivers who have a high rating from working for another ride-hailing service.
Flywheel takes a slightly different approach to ride-hailing. Rather than enlisting its own fleet of drivers, Flywheel instead allows smartphone users to hail a traditional cab — and pay for it — all through the company's app. As with many other services, users can also schedule a ride ahead of time.
Curb Mobility was formed in early 2018 after splitting from a prior parent company. It aims to provide services for taxi drivers and fleets, while offering the Curb Rider App for users to hail a taxi from their smartphone — just like Flywheel. It's available in cities all over the country and allows riders to schedule a trip up to 24 hours ahead of time. Curb says one of its benefits over rival apps is that riders know they'll be driven by licensed taxi drivers, rather than gig-economy workers who drive for ride-share services.
Via is another ride-hailing app that, like most competitors, allows for passengers to request a ride from a smartphone app. Interestingly, it will also allow some commuters to pay for their journeys via various "commuter benefit" schemes. Currently the five-year-old service works only in New York City, Chicago and Washington, DC.
Arro is another app allowing people to call a taxi through its app. If you hailed a cab manually (in New York and London only) and the taxi supports it, you can also still pay electronically through the app later. Currently, Arro operates in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, New York, San Francisco and London.
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