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Uber vs. Lyft: Cost, safety, user experience compared

Here's what you need to know about both ride-hailing apps.

You're on vacation, at a conference, being responsible after a night out or don't have a car, and need to get a ride. If you're like me, you have two apps on your phone for this very purpose: Uber and Lyft. But how do you choose which ride-hailing service to use at any given time? 

Uber and Lyft are ride-hailing apps that operate in largely the same way: Open the app, type in the address you want to go to, select the type of ride you want to take (single, shared or luxury), see the cost and confirm. You'll be able to see where your driver is and when they're going to arrive. But there are a few differences between the two services in terms of pricing, safety features, subscription options and rewards. 

Here's what you need to know about each service before you choose which one to use. 

Read more: How to save money with Uber and Lyft

Angela Lang/CNET

Uber was the first ride-hailing app on the market, launching in 2009 with an app for iOS and Android. Its ubiquity has made "getting an Uber" synonymous with "using a ride-hailing service" for many people. Uber has 91 million monthly active riders, and 3.9 million drivers across 63 countries, according to its website. Coverage-wise, Uber is much larger than Lyft, which operates only in the US and Canada

The Uber app is user-friendly. When you open it, you'll see a map of your current location and a box that says "Where to?" where you can type in your destination to either find a ride now or schedule one for the future. 

Type in a destination address, and you'll see several different options for a ride, along with the price of each. These include UberX (the most popular and least expensive option, for a private ride for one to four people in a basic car), Comfort (a private ride in a newer, midsize car with extra legroom), UberXL (for a group of up to six riders), or Select/Black (a private ride in a premium car with a professional driver). You might also see an option for UberPool, which matches you with drivers heading to the same area and lets you share a car with them for a lower price than an UberX ride. In some cities, Uber also offers bike and scooter rentals and transit schedules.

Read more: Uber vs. Lyft: 9 things to consider before your first ride

If you become an Uber Rewards member (it's free to join), you can earn points for your Uber rides and Uber Eats food orders (found in the same app), which add up to rewards and benefits like money off future rides. 

In some cities, including New York and Seattle, frequent riders can sign up for Uber's subscription service Ride Pass for $25 per month, which promises to save you money (though exactly how much is fairly murky). In the New York City area, you can also access to Jump bikes and scooters free for 30 minutes per day when you have Ride Pass and book them through the Uber app -- though the site says this is a limited-time offer. 

Uber has seen a lot of scrutiny around the safety of the service, particularly for female passengers. The service has faced thousands of sexual assault allegations and the murder of a woman who entered the car of a man posing as a driver. Thousands of unauthorized drivers, including convicted felons, on the Uber app have surfaced in London, San Francisco, Houston, Boston and other cities. 

To combat this, Uber has added a number of new safety features to the app in the past year, including the ability to text 911 from the app during a ride and tools to verify that riders are getting into the right car. The company will reportedly begin allowing US passengers and drivers to record audio during rides through the app as well. 

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Uber
Jason Pepper/CNET

Lyft is the second-largest known ride-hailing service, which launched in 2012 and rapidly expanded as Uber faced scandals both external and internal, including the ousting of its former CEO Travis Kalanick after an investigation of accusations of sexual harassment, gender bias and unprofessional business practices within the company. Like Uber, Lyft has an app for iOS and Android. Lyft has 30 million riders and 2 million drivers across the US and Canada, but none outside of North America. 

The Lyft app works very similarly to Uber's: When you open it, you'll see a map of your current location, and a box that says "Where are you going?" where you can type in your destination to either find a ride now or schedule one for the future. 

When you type in a destination address, you'll see an option for a Lyft (the most popular and least expensive option, for a private ride for one to four people in a basic car), Lyft XL (for a group of up to six riders) and Lux (a premium car with a top driver and extra legroom). You might also see an option for a Shared ride, to ride with others heading in the same direction for a lower price. In some cities, Lyft also offers car rentals, bike and scooter rentals, and transit schedules. 

Read more: Ride-sharing apps: Taxis for the 21st century

For frequent riders, in December, Lyft launched a new subscription plan called Lyft Pink, which takes the place of a few previous plans it offered. Aimed at riders who use Lyft at least two or three times per week, a Lyft Pink subscription costs $20 a month, and gets you 15% off of every ride, priority airport pickups, three covered cancellation fees per month, and three free 30-minute bike and scooter rides per month (for a limited time, in certain cities), among other perks. Lyft's subscription option costs $5 less per month than Uber's, and is more clear on how much money you will actually save. 

Like Uber, Lyft has also faced many accusations of sexual assault of passengers from drivers: At least 34 women have either filed or joined lawsuits against the ride-hailing company since August, CNET reported. The victims' lawyers say Lyft hasn't done enough to protect riders from sexual assault, kidnapping and rape. 

Also like Uber, Lyft has added new safety features to the app in response to the allegations, including the ability to call 911 within the app and send their location to emergency services, and for the app to detect when a ride has "unexpected delays" and push a notification to riders and drivers asking if they need help. Drivers are also now required to take a community safety education course with Rainn, a nonprofit antisexual-assault organization. 

The bottom line (and how to get the best price)

Most of the time, the experience of using Lyft and Uber is largely the same -- perhaps in part because, anecdotally, most drivers I ride with say they work for both platforms, and have both Lyft and Uber decals on their dashboard. Indeed, a 2019 survey of 1,000 Uber and Lyft drivers from The Rideshare Guy found that nearly 84% of drivers said they work for more than one service. 

Pricing tends to be pretty similar for both Lyft and Uber, but fluctuate based on demand and traffic. If the lowest price is what you're looking for, the best way to make sure you get the best deal is to open both apps on your phone, type in your destination, and see which price is lower at that time. 

The services have different levels of activity in different areas, so the best option for you may also depend on where you live and how many drivers are typically available. If you're traveling outside of the US or Canada, only Uber is available. If you're a US-based frequent rider, Lyft's new Pink subscription service may be the best option to help you save some money. 

Read more: These posh ride-sharing startups aim to leave Uber and Lyft in the dust

Both Uber and Lyft are taking positive steps when it comes to preventing sexual assault and other crimes, though there is always a risk when you enter a car with a stranger, whether they have undergone a background check or not. Both companies have also stressed that the vast majority of the millions of rides taken each day end without incident

In terms of driver satisfaction, The Rideshare Guy survey mentioned above found that in 2019, 48% of Uber-only drivers said they were satisfied with their experience driving for Uber (down 10% from 2018), while 52% of Lyft-only drivers said the same. 

Personally, I usually default to Lyft -- though this is largely a leftover effect from 2017, around the time I joined, when Uber was facing internal turbulence. But with many changes to the company since then, if there aren't many Lyft cars around or the price seems high, I switch over to Uber. I also typically use Uber to schedule early morning rides in advance, because it's slightly less intuitive to do so on Lyft. But I haven't noticed any major differences in service between the two. 

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Lyft
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