A Researcher Rode More Than 5,000 Miles to Document the Differences Between Uber and Lyft

The two companies treat their drivers differently, the researcher said.

AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File

Uber and Lyft are arch rivals, but they provide the same service. Both allow customers to hail a car via an app to get around. But there are differences in how the two biggest U.S. ride-hailing companies operate according to Alex Rosenblat, a researcher at the Data & Society Research Institute. According to Business Insider, she rode more than 5,000 miles to chronicle those differences in her new book Uberland: How Algorithms are Rewriting the Rules of Work. The book was published Oct. 23.

Both Uber and Lyft consider their drivers to be independent contractors, rather than employees, and both are under pressure to change that so drivers could get things like minimum wages and benefits. Neither company wants to change its business model, but the way Uber and Lyft treat their drivers is one of the biggest differences between them, accorning to Rosenblat.

For example, Uber launched its ride-hailing service in 2010, but only added tipping in 2017. Lyft offered it from the start, and it's also made more of an effort to create driver-support services. Lyft has promised to spend $100 million on "hubs" that offer vehicle maintenance and clean bathrooms for drivers, and hopes to eventually make rental cars available to every driver that wants one.

Much of the other differences between Uber and Lyft have more to do with public perception than anything else, Rosenblat stated. Drivers often describe Uber riders as higher class, she said, but added that Uber markets itself as a high-end black car service, while Lyft styles itself as "your friend with a car."

Uber's highly visible scandals may also be coloring people's view of the company, Rosenblat said. From paying off hackers to a fatal self-driving car crash, Uber is often in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Uber and Lyft have fairly similar employment practices, but Lyft gets much less criticism than its rival, said Rosenblat.

Regardless of what people think of it, Uber remains much larger than Lyft. Earlier this year, Lyft surpassed 1 billion rides, while Uber surpassed 10 billion. Uber also has a truly global reach, while Lyft operates only in the U.S. and Canada.  

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