For many college students, young adults, and professionals, calling an Uber is almost second nature—whip out your phone after paying the bill at dinner or stepping outside at a party and you can be connected to a driver within seconds with the promise of hopping into a vehicle in the span of a few minutes. It’s easy, it’s accessible, and it’s wildly popular.
Although other ride-share options are available and relatively plenty, there’s a certain solidity that Uber has achieved over its competitors. As Boston Globe reporter Scott Kirsner explains, other ride-share alternatives like Lyft and Sidecar have yet to provide “that level of don’t-stress-about-it simplicity.” But the question arises: Is Uber really our best option?
Coming into the scene initially as UberCab in 2009, Uber was quick to gain traction and become a reputable international brand, while Lyft didn’t emerge as a competitor until 2012. Naturally, Uber harbors a larger, more dedicated following; it had years without competition to build itself as a company. The differences between the two ride-sharing services, however, are relatively scant.
Although Uber offers a larger fleet with a wider variety of vehicle and pricing options, the standard fares and surge prices for Uber and Lyft prove to be mostly the same. Plus, both companies provide incentives for drivers who choose to switch over from one to the other.
But Uber’s POOL and XL features prove to be more efficient than similar Lyft features, and their relative popularity comes partly as a product of their wider national scope. While Lyft only provides service in 60+ cities, Uber covers over 200.
However, Lyft and Uber are only two big-name brands in the world of ride-sharing services. Especially being in the Boston area, Boston College students have a variety of options available to them when it comes to hitching a quick, smartphone app-activated ride across town.
Fasten, for example, is a ride-share company that sets itself apart by way of pricing. When rides are in high demand, Fasten won’t set “surge” charges where its bigger-name competitors will; however, to convince the driver to choose your ride over someone else’s, you can opt to “boost” the price you are willing to pay to be chosen first, a feature unique to Fasten.
Plus, the company has no minimum fare, will not charge you for canceling a ride after requesting, and offers a fixed fare to drivers, as opposed to Lyft and Uber’s percentage cut payment system. The catch is that riders usually have a wait time of 10 minutes and upward for a ride, which can seem like an eternity in comparison to Uber’s near-immediate services.
Sidecar, on the other hand, while still offering these same ride-sharing service, appeals to its users primarily through its “Sidecar Deliveries” service, targeting professionals by offering affordable deliveries with different “Flex” and “Reserve” options that vary in price and efficiency to meet a business’ needs.
While useful and quick, all ride-share services raise safety concerns for riders. Women riding alone, for example, are often more hesitant to call for rides from these popular companies.
An up-and-coming brand called Chariot for Women is aiming to combat this by providing a fleet of all-female drivers for female riders (plus males under the age of 13) in the Boston area.
The company places a heavy emphasis on background-checking processes and safety concerns, arguing that women should have a ride-sharing option where they can travel without fear.
But the company may not launch with ease—openly self-proclaimed on their website as being a service “exclusively for women,” Chariot for Women makes itself an easy target for gender-discrimination lawsuits. However, the company does address a pressing concern about addressing the number of rape and assault cases recently associated with Uber drivers. Slated to debut this spring, these women-only chariots could be taking to the roads and providing alternatives to female riders with safety concerns.
To really take safety matters into one’s own hands, however, Zipcar is always available. Headquartered in Boston, Zipcar offers discounted rates through BC and other colleges nationwide to allow age 18+ student drivers to rent the cars, while non-students must be at least 21 years of age to use the service.
With Zipcar, the riders become the drivers, picking up a vehicle at a Zipcar station and paying by the hour until the vehicle is returned. Of course, Zipcar is no ride-share service, and it certainly lacks where ride-share companies excel in immediacy and convenience.
So, is it worth it to branch out of the Uber comfort zone? It’s certainly up to the rider. Uber is the original ride-sharing service, the tried-and-true alternative to hailing a cab, and all at the launch of a smartphone application. And, thus, Uber is reliable for the sake of our immediate gratification needs.
But, in honoring the banishment of surge pricing or the emphasis on women’s safety, other options are ready and available for riders who choose to prioritize their preferences differently. If you’ve got time to spare, go for a ride with Sidecar or Fasten for a change: You might just find your new ride or die travel companion.