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Uber vs Lyft: Biggest differences between companies



Uber Lyft
Passengers board an Uber SUV in New


  • For her new book “Uberland,” ethnographer Alex
    Rosenblat documented more than 5,000 miles in Uber and Lyft rides to show a dark side to the “gig
  • Most of her miles were logged in Uber rides — yet key
    differences with its biggest competitor, Lyft, often came
  • Tipping was the clear focal point for drivers, who also
    said the company treats them better, and Uber’s public stumbles
    under Travis Kalanick could contribute to this. 

On the surface, there may not appear to be much of a difference
between Uber and Lyft.

Both companies will get you from point-A to point-B via a car
summoned with an app, skimming revenue off the total fare, and
eventually paying the driver.

But there are more subtle differences only an ethnographer might
notice, and even then, only after riding more than 5,000 miles
with ride-hailing drivers across the United States. That’s
exactly what Alex Rosenblat, a researcher at the Data &
Society Research Institute, did for her new book “Uberland: How
algorithms are rewriting the rules of work,” which was published
October 23. 

Uberland book cover
Uberland, published
October 23, explores a dark side to the so-called gig

University of California

Most of the subtle differences, the ones only a seasoned driver
or rider might take account of, all come down to how the
respective companies treat their drivers. Despite a number of
pushes to classify drivers as employees — and thus entitle them
to things like a minimum wage, insurance, and benefits — both
Lyft and Uber still consider them independent contractors.

“Among most drivers I meet in person, and the countless number
I’ve observed in online forums,” writes Rosenblatt, “there is a
near-universal consensus that Lyft treats its drivers better than

She points to the addition of tipping as a perfect example of
this treatment. Uber only
added the service in July 2017
, compared with Lyft which

gave riders the option from day one.

Then there are the passengers themselves.

“It’s not uncommon for drivers to describe Uber passengers as
higher class,” writes Rosenblat, “but also as stuck up, and to
say they prefer Lyft because the passengers are more friendly or

This could be due to branding. Rosenblat points out Uber seeks to
market itself more like a black car service, rather than Lyft’s
positioning as “your friend with a car.”

At the end of the day, much of this could come from Uber’s highly
public gaffes under the leadership of founder and former CEO
Travis Kalanick that
ultimately led to his departure from the firm
. (He still sits
on the board of directors.)

“The fact that Lyft gets so much less flak than Uber
does from the popular press, consumers and other stakeholders,
despite the fact that both companies have similar employment
practice, suggests to me that the popular divide over these two
companies emerges not from their employment practices but from
Uber’s highly visible conflicts,” Rosenblat said. 

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