What Is Ridesharing, and How Does It Work?

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Ridesharing (or ride-hailing) has become so ubiquitous that company names have become verbs. How many times have you heard or said yourself, “I’m Ubering there right now” or “I’ll just Lyft it?” Other than etymologists and the grammar police, no one will even bat an eye at your butchering of the English language.

Still, not everyone owns a smartphone (*gasp*), has downloaded anything beyond social media apps and games, or is comfortable using their mobiles outside of texting and the occasional, actual phone call. So, why are people jumping into strangers’ cars a la modern-day hitchhiking? Here’s the 101.

Über Growth

A taxi cab drives past a man on a street
Ride-sharing apps have made getting passed by occupied cab after occupied cab a thing of the past. (Unsplash)

Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick were in Paris but couldn’t get a cab. The rejection lit the bulb of what-ifs. As in, what if instead of flailing our arms into the maddening ether we could find a ride by simply tapping our phone? It was December 2008, and the idea that would become Uber was formed. Today, 15 million Uber ride requests are made daily.

According to the company, 75 million riders use the services of its 3 million drivers worldwide. The one-billionth trip was taken five years after the company launched in 2010, but the second billion only took six months to achieve. To date, ten billion Uber rides have been taken so far as the San Francisco-based company has grown from 100 cities in 2014 to more than 600 cities in 2018.

Rivals soon popped up, taxi and livery companies filed suit, cities drew up ways to tax this new on-demand transport service, and consumers learned their selective app downloading had immense purchasing power. But beyond the politics, ridesharing has undoubtedly changed the landscape of how we ask and go for a ride – private or shared, with a child’s car seat or a pet’s carrier, at noon or midnight.

Beyond the Big, Yellow Taxi

Stock image of Uber and Lyft ridesharing competitors
Uber and Lyft are by far the largest names in the ride-sharing game, but smaller players are gaining ground whenever Goliath falters. (Unsplash)

Even if you own a vehicle, at some point, you’re going to need a lift. Doesn’t matter when, where, or why; you just will. Which is why metropolises, suburbia, and even rural outskirts have increasingly paved paradise to put up a parking lot of roads and highways.

But for those without a personal car, mobility options are no longer relegated to bumming a ride, calling a cab, or utilizing public transportation. There’s an app for everything, and getting around has never been easier. Although Uber and its “archnemesis” Lyft are the ridesharing titans, there is no shortage of Davids willing to take on the pick-me-up Goliaths. Below are the familiar faces and some new kids on the block.

Uber (worldwide)

Users can select from UberX (everyday, solo jaunts), UberPOOL (shared with other passengers traveling along the same route), UberXL (large groups), and Select (high-end cars) for their commuting needs. Uber also has expanded to offering food delivery, shipping services, healthcare patient transportation, and is working on self-driving vehicle technology.

Lyft (North America)

Also based in San Francisco, Lyft offers the most vehicle “modes.” With seating for up to four passengers, Lyft provides basic vehicle transportation. Lux sends you a higher-end model to ride in. When noted, XL means room for up to six riders and Black constitutes a black car livery. Additionally, requests can be made for scooters, child safety seats, and wheelchair accessibility.

Via (Chicago, NYC, Washington, D.C.)

Unlike the majority of on-demand transportation companies, Via defaults to a shared ride but Express and Private ride options are available, too. Via can be an affordable alternative in its operating cities, but pricing is competitive due to its corner-to-corner logistics. Being dropped off in the “general vicinity” might be off-putting to those who prefer door-to-door service.

Juno (USA: NYC; Intl: U.K., Israel, Russia)

Taking a smaller cut of per-ride profits, Juno’s focus is attracting and retaining the highest-rated drivers, which then translates into happy riders. Three service types are offered: Bliss (most affordable option), Lux (premium vehicles), and SUV (groups larger than four). Juno, which launched in 2016, was acquired by Israel-based Gett in 2017.

Safr (Boston)

Putting safety and equality at the forefront is Safr, which is geared toward empowering women – both as drivers and passengers. All drivers are personally vetted and undergo comprehensive background checks with female drivers also being paid more than the industry standard.

Riders can select a gender preference for their driver, regardless of their own gender, and Safr’s Color Matching feature provides another level of verification. Unless the rider and driver input the correct assigned colors, the requested trip cannot begin.

Differences Aside

Lyft App Shown on Smartphone
Thanks to ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber, getting from one place to another is easy. (Unsplash)

There are more ridesharing providers out there, but whether global or local, their apps, services, and operations are relatively the same. For example, apps are free to download with many offering first-time users with discounted rides. Juno lets riders enjoy 30% off its rate for two weeks after sign-up, and Uber will offer upwards of 50% off partner brands.

And being the conglomerate of the bunch, Uber users can apply for a branded cash-back Visa credit card. When paired with Visa Local Offers, riders can double dip on savings with additional Uber Cash deposits. Lyft recently launched a rewards program for its business users, offering similar cash-back incentives.

Other industry-wide features include:

  • Driver/rider ratings
  • Advanced scheduling
  • In-app tipping
  • Fare splitting
  • Rider changes
  • Location sharing
  • Subscription plans

Being an app-based service, these companies also tend to be active on social media and responsive to comments and inquiries. It seems the only thing ridesharing companies won’t let you do is request a specific make and model to transport you around town.

But even that is in the works.

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