Uber and Lyft Take a Step Toward Real Ride-Sharing

Uber and Lyft have set out to upend the taxi industry in American cities. But are they the traffic-busting “ride-sharing” services they’re often portrayed to be? Not really: Using an app to hail a driver and take you where you’re going isn’t fundamentally different than any traditional for-hire vehicle service.

Share this car with another passenger and save some money. Now that's ride-sharing. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/people/raidokaldma/##Flickr/Raido Kaldma##

Lyft is testing out a service in San Francisco that will let customers making similar trips share a vehicle. Photo: Raido Kaldma/Flickr

But both Uber and Lyft are getting closer to genuine ride-sharing through the new Lyft Line and UberPool services.

In the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo notes that Lyft co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer consider the Lyft Line launch to be a direct response to criticisms that the company doesn’t really reduce the number of cars on the road. Green also told Manjoo that he sees the service as one people will use for daily commuting, not just special occasions.

Both Lyft Line and UberPool will still use the company’s licensed drivers, as opposed to a ride-sharing service in which the passenger and the driver are matched because they happen to be going to the same place at the same time. The new part, though, is that if you use Lyft Line or UberPool instead of the regular services, you’re authorizing the companies to look for another passenger along your same general route. Incentives align neatly: Each passenger pays less than if they had gone solo, the driver makes more, and the company can get more customers even if its fleet stays the same size.

In Uber’s announcement of the project, the company boasts that fares could go down by as much as 40 percent compared to uberX fares. Both services will provide fare discounts for passengers who sign up, regardless of whether they get matched, for being willing to share.

Neither carpool app will be rolled out on a wide scale for some time. Lyft Line is starting just in San Francisco and only on Apple devices; UberPool is still in “private beta.”