What is Uber, What is Lyft, and Which Should You Use?

The Uber app shown as cars drive by

Uber app | Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Whether you need a safe way to get home after a night out or are seeking a ride to the airport, there’s little reason to call a cab anymore. In most cities, the easiest way to get a ride is to fire up your smartphone, open an app like Uber or Lyft, and with a few taps, a car will be on its way to you. These services are generally cheaper than a taxi, and Uber specifically is continually cutting its rates — which can be great for users, but not so great for drivers — in order to create a service that’s cheaper and more convenient than actually owning a car.

When you request a ride, your driver will automatically get directions to your destination, and you pay for your ride with the debit card or credit card you’ve saved in the app. These services are designed to offer a more convenient and connected version of taxis, which can be time-consuming or difficult to hail. Here’s what you need to know about the two leading ride-sharing apps, and how you can choose which one is best for you.

What is Uber, and what is Lyft?

Uber and Lyft are the two ride-sharing apps that dominate in most cities. You’ve probably heard about them in recent headlines, since they’re disrupting the traditional taxi industry and using tactics both innovative and aggressive to build workforces of independent drivers. Uber was founded in 2009, and Lyft was founded in 2012. Both services offer iOS and Android apps, and Uber offers an app for Windows phone users, too. While there are plenty of apps that enable you to hail a licensed taxi, Uber and Lyft are different, because each has its own drivers.  Here’s what you need to know about the two different services, and how you can choose between them.

How are Uber and Lyft different?

Lyft passengers and driver

Lyft ride | Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Lyft

Uber and Lyft’s apps are different, but one of the biggest differences between the two services is the different kinds of rides that you can choose. Drivers for both Uber and Lyft offer different types of cars and services, and depending on how many people you have with you and what kind of vehicle you prefer, you can select what ride to request via the Uber or Lyft app. Lyft has fewer options than the many you can select from in Uber’s app, but its services cover everything that the average user will need when requesting a ride. A standard Lyft has room for you and up to three friends, while Lyft Plus is a higher-priced ride for up to six passengers. Both services also offer carpooling services, which give you a lower-cost ride if you share the car with another passenger; Uber’s is uberPool, and Lyft’s is Lyft Line.

UberX is the company’s most affordable option, followed by uberXL, which is an inexpensive service for larger groups of people. UberSELECT is a service that takes “the next step toward luxury,” followed by UberBLACK, which gets you a ride with a professional chauffeur in a livery-registered black luxury car. Finally, UberSUV has the highest base fare, with a luxurious vehicle that has room for you and a bunch of friends. In some cities, Uber also offers UberLux, with higher-end cars, and UberAssist, for seniors and people with disabilities, who need extra assistance or a vehicle that can accommodate a wheelchair.

How do you use Uber or Lyft?

The Uber app shown as cars drive by

Uber app | Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Despite their differences, the services and their apps have similarities, too. To ride with Uber or Lyft, you’ll open the app and follow the on-screen instructions to hail a ride. Each app will show you a map of your current location and show you the available cars nearby (though as Yoni Heisler reported for BGR last summer, those icons may not represent cars that are actually in your area). When you enter your destination and request a ride — and optionally get an estimate of how much it’s going to cost — a nearby driver will accept the request.

You’ll be able to see your driver’s profile, complete with his or her name, a headshot, information on the make and model of their car, a photo of said car, and an estimate of how many minutes it’ll take the driver to get to you. Some drivers will call or text you when they arrive, and when you spot the car, you can get in. On the ride to your destination, you’ll be able to sit back and relax as the driver navigates to your destination. (You can also check your route in the app.) At the end of the ride, you’ll be able to see the final cost, give your driver feedback, and if you’re using Lyft, add a tip. One thing that people love about Uber and Lyft is that they’ll never need to fumble with cash or a card, which makes it considerably more convenient than a traditional cab.

Additionally, Uber and Lyft have the same requirements for their drivers, and while you should be as careful about your safety as you would when taking a cab, both background-check their drivers, and you can report any problems directly to the company — something that you can’t do as easily with a traditional taxi company.

How can you choose between Uber and Lyft?

Lyft driver waiting to pick up passengers

Lyft driver | Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Uber and Lyft’s rates are comparable in many U.S. cities, and both services charge users more during times of high demand. As Sarah Mitroff reports for CNET, Uber’s “surge pricing” and Lyft’s “prime time” can go into effect as large numbers of user commute to work, rush to their evening plans after leaving the office, or use the service to get home late on a Saturday night. Another time when you might end up paying higher-than-average rates per mile or minute is after a big sporting event or concert, when you’ll pay a premium in areas around the venue.

Both Lyft and Uber will let you know when prime time or surge pricing is in effect. You should pay attention to those alerts, since sometimes, such pricing can mean that a ride will cost a lot more with Uber or Lyft than it would with a taxi. Your destination also affects your rate, and for rides like a trip to the airport, it’s worth comparing the cost in the two apps. Additionally, both services run specials and sales, and rates change relatively frequently, so it’s difficult to determine for sure which service offers better pricing across the board.

When choosing which app to use, another important consideration is which service is available where you live or are traveling. Both Uber and Lyft are available in cities across the U.S. and around the world, though Uber is available in more cities than Lyft. That means that you’re more likely to find an Uber driver nearby than a Lyft driver. If one service has been in your city for a while, and the other only recently arrived, you’re probably better off opting for the one that’s been around longer, since it likely has more drivers on the road at any given time.

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