The Ride Guide to Lyft

  • Benjamin Preston is an automotive journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Time, the New York Daily News and The Guardian, among other publications. His work has taken him from his Brooklyn home to a few war zones, from Baghdad, Iraq to the Detroit auto show.

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Remember the good old days, when you could stand by the side of the road, throw out your arm, yell “Taxi!” and two different yellow cabs would race toward you in a mad competition to pick up the fare? Fine times, to be sure, although many more of us have memories of someone else swooping in and jumping into the cab before you could get to it, or worse, standing around in the rain for hours waiting for a cab that never came.

Thank goodness for app-based ride-share services.

While rideshare apps haven’t solved all the problems created by the high-demand times when taxicabs are hard to come by, the days of engaging in a one-on-one battle over a scarce ride are pretty much over. Now, the transaction is confined to the privacy of your smartphone; you have a direct line of communication with whatever driver the software picks for you.

Most cities have at least two or three rideshare options that make getting a ride as simple as punching an address into your phone and waiting a few minutes for your ride to arrive. While Uber is still the undisputed rideshare leader in terms of volume, Lyft is giving the company a run for its money, even as some drivers work for both.

One thing is certain: the proliferation of rideshare companies has made it easier than ever to get from point A to point B without using your own car.

This shift in this transportation paradigm has been a boon to everyone from carless city dwellers to intoxicated late-night revelers. And while Uber’s app may have more features than Lyft’s, it also tends to be expensive during periods of high demand – say, during a snowstorm at rush hour, or after a concert lets out. Uber’s rates during these high-traffic times can rise dramatically, whereas Lyft prices get a much more modest bump.

As simple as Lyft is, it’s like anything else – there’s a trick to it.

Location, Location, Location

Man calling Lyft on a smartphone
Lyft is usually cheaper than Uber during high-demand periods. (Lyft)

Internet access is key to using Lyft. Like other rideshare apps, Lyft is location-based, meaning it needs to know where you are in order to find nearby drivers. If you know you’re going to need a ride, plan on hailing one in an area where there’s actually a signal, if not Wi-Fi access.

If you give an exact pickup address, the driver won’t have to hunt for you. Smartphone-based GPS locators are great, but often give imprecise coordinates. You may think you’re waiting in the right place when your driver is circling the next block, but if your driver can’t find you within a few minutes, he or she will most likely leave, socking you with a $5 “no show” charge.

Be ready to leave when you call up a car. Make your way to the designated meeting point (usually the front door of an address) with several minutes to spare. A driver may decide to wait for you if you’re late, but Lyft requires its drivers to wait only 5 minutes for single rides and a minute and a half for shared ride recipients. After that, they can mark you as a “no show.”

Remote locations are okay, too. Lyft drivers are required by the app’s administrators to pick up any hail that isn’t more than 100 miles away. So, while you may be paying a hefty fee (Lyft charges over $1 per mile), you’ll get a ride.

Important Rules of Lyft Etiquette

A black Chevrolet Suburban picks up a Lyft passenger
Be on time for your Lyft. If your driver has to wait too long, you could be hit with a ride cancellation fee. (Lyft)

Once your Lyft arrives, it’s important to be courteous and polite. You can (and should) rate your Lyft driver, but keep in mind that he or she will rate you, too. Unkind words or an overly brusque manner can be taken the wrong way and result in a bad rating from the driver.

Why is your Lyft rating important? Drivers don’t have to pick up everyone who requests a ride through the app, and have been known to pass on poorly rated riders. So take a note from the Brits: be courteous even when you’re not feeling it because it’s the proper thing to do.

You can sit in the back seat, alone with your thoughts, or up front where you can more easily chat with the driver. It’s up to you, although you should ask the driver first, to make sure you aren’t intruding on their personal space. Often, drivers use the front seat and footwell for their personal belongings.

Remember that small children are required by law to ride in child safety seats. Bringing a kid in the car without a car seat can result in a lower rating from the driver.

Also, families should remember that most Lyft drivers cannot carry more than four passengers at a time. If you’ve got a party of five or more, you’ll need a larger vehicle, like the Chevrolet Suburban above. And that means you need to order Lyft XL service, which costs a bit more but can accommodate six passengers. Trying to force more passengers than are allowed into the car can result in a bad rating from the driver.

Don’t smoke, vape, eat, or drink in the car. Remember that most Lyft drivers own the car you’re riding in, and they may not share your penchant for Marlboros or creamy onion and garlic pasta. Obviously, don’t show up intoxicated and vomit all over the car, either.

Be sure to rate and tip the driver. If you don’t, Lyft will automatically give the driver 5 stars (out of 5) and add a tip. As in restaurants, tips usually run between 15% and 25%.

Be Smart, Be Safe

A Lyft full of passengers
It’s a good idea to wear a seat belt in a Lyft or any other taxi. It appears the people in the back seat of this one forgot to buckle up. (Lyft)

Safety is another matter to consider when using a rideshare service. Before you get into the car that arrives, make sure to match the driver description, the vehicle description, and the license plate number with what is shown on your app. If those three things do not match, do not get into the car.

If you’re riding solo, share your route with friends or family. The Lyft app makes it easy, and by doing so people will know where you are, when you will arrive, who is driving you, and what car you’re in.

Don’t forget to buckle up. For some reason, many people forget to – or just don’t – wear seat belts when they’re riding in rideshare vehicles and taxicabs. Accidents happen, and the seat belt is your first line of defense against injury or death.

Finally, if you simply don’t feel comfortable with a driver, or the car that arrives is clearly not safe, don’t go. Most Lyft drivers have newer cars with all the latest safety technology, but a few drive older vehicles with dubious crash safety ratings or with obvious mechanical or maintenance problems. Just keep in mind that you could get hit with a ride cancellation charge, which you can always dispute with Lyft if necessary.

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About the Author

  • Benjamin Preston is an automotive journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Time, the New York Daily News and The Guardian, among other publications. His work has taken him from his Brooklyn home to a few war zones, from Baghdad, Iraq to the Detroit auto show.

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