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Uber, Lyft and the brave, new world of mobility for travelers

March 10, 2017
Roadside phone call

There has been nothing short of a revolution in automobile transportation for travelers of all kinds. The days of taxi cabs dominating the field are over. Consider that Uber has a market value well in excess of $50 billion, and it has a host of competitors, including Lyft, which received a $500 million investment from General Motors, and Fontinalis Partners, the venture capital firm funded by Bill Ford, a descendant of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, pitched in another $50 million or so. It doesn’t end there, app-driven ride-hailing services such as Didi Chuxing in China and Gett, an Israeli-based start-up, are also in the game and battling for your business.

The point is this: Ride-hailing and ride-sharing services are big business and growing, and that means it’s a good idea for any traveler to understand some of the basics of this brave, new world of mobility.

For starters, there is convenience and economy. The convenience is that an Uber or Lyft ride can be summoned at the tap of a smartphone app and the transaction is cashless. The economy is that this new breed of ride-hailing services is generally less expensive than traditional taxis, and the tip is included (sort of). Just understand that it is not unusual, especially in a large city, to watch empty taxi cab whisk past while you wait for your Uber or Lyft driver to arrive. What you save in cash might be offset by the wait, depending on how pressed you might be for time. Regarding tipping, many Uber and Lyft drivers expect them, even if they don’t make the request. Certainly, if a driver helps you with luggage, a brief tour of the surrounding area, providing extra information and so on, a tip would be in order.

An alternative to ride-hailing service is Zipcar, which the New York Times recently described as “a bridge between ride-shares and the traditional car rental.” Think in terms of a car club. A yearlong membership to Zipcar costs about $35 and that gives members the right to reserve and use cars for $10 an hour or $78 a day. Prices vary by car and prices are a bit higher on weekends. But gas, insurance and up to 180 miles are included in the hourly or daily price.

Consider it an option, depending on your lifestyle.

Back to Uber, Lyft and less well-known ride hailing services. The Times’ reporter, who researched these services made some pertinent suggestions. For example, he advises riders to communication with their driver. If you’re concerned that you Uber or Lyft driver might not show up, be aware theirs apps enable you to text or call and confirm their whereabouts.

Once you’re in the car, confirm that your driver has your destination correct. If you know your way around have a preferred route, tell the driver. A good driver will often inform you of the route he or she is taking and ask if you had a differ route in mind. In most cases, the driver simply plugs your destination into Google Maps, or Waze or Siri and follow the GPS directions the service provides.

Another point: You have the option of canceling your ride. If you cancel more than five minutes after requesting a driver, a cancelation feel of $5 or $10 might be applied.

These services also offer car-pooling options, UberPOOL and Lyft Line. Like some other transportation services, if several people are headed in the same direction, why not share a vehicle and get a break on the price? That is fine if you’re not pressed for time and the savings are worth it, but that is not always the case, such as when you’re headed to the airport to catch a flight.

Then there is the safety factor. There have been rare instances of sexual assault reported. The Times suggested taking the following precautions.

  • Always verify the car make and license plate number. That information is provided in-app when you request a ride.
  • When the driver arrives, don’t say, “Hi, Uber for Thomas?” but rather, “Hi, who are you picking up?”
  • Keep in mind you do not have to enter your home address as a pick-up or drop-off point. You might feel more comfortable being dropped off or picked up at a nearby business or intersection.
  • If at any point you feel unsafe, tell the driver to pull over, end the ride and send a report to the company.

One of the terrific features used by Uber and Lyft is they send riders a request to review their drivers. This helps ensure drivers are respectful and provide good customer service. Conversely, Uber and Lyft driver rate their passengers. Riders who are intoxicated, abusive or otherwise uncivil can be banned from the service if there are repeated instances of bad behavior.

Bottom line, the auto transportation business is on a roll and you have more options than ever. The more you understand how they work, the better your ability to make the right choice for the situation.

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