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.”

  • laughtiger

    If this is successful, it will still not be “ridesharing” but a shared taxi service. The difference being driver compensation.

  • cralledode

    It is literally ride sharing. Each passenger needs a ride, and instead of getting one just for him/herself, they share it with another passenger.

  • J

    yep, shared taxis and no more. Good, but not really that different.

  • laughtiger

    True, except “ridesharing” is used to mean non-commercial sharing of rides, like car-pooling. It’s a legal distinction, also implying that not just the passengers but the driver is “sharing” the trip.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Does Streetsblog take donations from these Uber and Lyft for all the favorable press? Uber and Lyft are no different than traditional cab companies except for their pricing and app and ability to get under the heavily regulated cab rules imposed by municipal governments. So why does Streetsblog so adore them?

  • We’re pretty clear in this article that we don’t consider Uber and Lyft to be real ride-sharing services, and that even these new programs don’t bring them to the level of true ride-sharing, with the driver and the passenger(s) making the same trip for their own purposes. But it’s a notable improvement and we thought it worth mentioning on the blog, with all of those caveats.

  • DMalcolmCarson

    I don’t get the criticism of Lyft/Uber even if they were just taxi services, but cheaper and better. If more people are able to rely on taxis to get around, it means not only better mobility in general, but also more people who are able to forgo having a personal auto, which means less need for parking, both residential and commercial, and a bigger base of people who can save money per trip using other modes.

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