Lyft and Uber may be the two leading ridesharing companies in the U.S., but the companies are far from interchangeable. From service areas and business ventures to company culture and ride costs, the two ridehailing companies have more than a few significant differences. In this article, we break down the key differences between Lyft and Uber ahead of the companies' 2019 initial public offerings (IPOs).

Are Uber and Lyft Public Companies?

As of December 2018, both Lyft and Uber are privately held companies with plans to debut on the public market in 2019. On Dec. 6, Lyft announced that the company had officially filed paperwork with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) to go public in early 2019. The private ridesharing company is currently valued at $15 billion according to reports from Business Insider, although a public offering could significantly boost that number.

Uber is on track for a 2019 IPO as well, says Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi. The multinational ridesharing company was valued at $120 billion by a recent report from the Wall Street Journal.

Where Are Uber and Lyft Located?

Uber serves hundreds of cities across the world, while Lyft operates exclusively in the United States, and more recently, in Toronto, Canada. Uber’s considerably larger service area means it might be your only option for a taxi alternative in the near future, especially if you're located outside of North America. But Uber's international reach can only go so far. On Aug. 1, 2016, Uber sold its UberChina operations to ridesharing giant Didi Chuxing, losing $2 billion and effectively ending the company's stake in China's fast-growing commuter market.

Uber and Lyft are both available 24 hours a day, but you may have trouble getting a ride in the middle of the night depending on your location. Both services are on-demand with a typical wait time of just a few minutes, but in some cities you can book a ride well in advance. With Lyft, for example, customers can reserve a ride up to 7 days in advance, while Uber lets customers schedule a ride up to a full month ahead of time in most cities. For those times when being early is a necessity, rather than a luxury — like getting to the airport, a job interview or an important business meeting — reserving a ride is a great option. Otherwise, just open the app a few minutes ahead of time to check out wait times and traffic conditions, then time your ride request accordingly.

What Vehicles Do Uber and Lyft Use?

Uber employs a mix of professional and non-professional drivers who have passed both a driving record and background check. Depending on a driver's experience and in-app ratings, they can drive several classes of service whose availability varies by location. Here are the vehicle classes Uber currently offers:

  • UberX is the basic sedan service for everyday rides for up to four people
  • UberXL provides affordable SUV service for groups up to six people
  • UberSUV provides luxury SUV service for groups up to six people
  • UberPOOL allows customers with different starting and ending points who are traveling in the same direction to share rides in sedans and share the cost
  • UberBLACK provides rides with professional drivers in black town cars for up to four people
  • UberWAV provides rides in wheelchair- and scooter-accessible vehicles by drivers trained in assisting passengers
  • UberSELECT provides stylish, high-end cars with top-rated drivers for up to four people for special occasions
  • UberTAXI lets you hail a yellow cab from the Uber app

Even if you choose Uber's lowest class of vehicle, the UberX, you won't be getting picked up in a clunker. Uber has minimum vehicle requirements for drivers in each city. In Los Angeles, for example, you can count on being picked up in a vehicle that is no more than 15 years old, has four doors, is in "good condition" with no cosmetic damage, has working air conditioning, is not commercially branded, and has passed an in-state vehicle inspection.

Lyft, like Uber, has minimum vehicle requirements for even its least expensive class of vehicles. In order to be eligible to drive with Lyft, vehicle requirements vary by city but may include having four doors, no body damage, and fully-functioning air conditioning, among other requirements. Minimum vehicle age might be 2003 in one city but 2009 in another. Lyft also offers several service classes whose availability varies by city:

  • Original Lyft provides rides in regular vehicles for up to four passengers
  • Lyft XL provides rides in regular vehicles for up to six passengers
  • Lyft Premier provides rides in high-end vehicles for four passengers
  • Lyft Lux provides premium black car service in luxury vehicles
  • Lyft Lux SUV provides rides in premium black SUV service for up to six people
  • Lyft Line is a carpool service that matches passengers traveling along the same route who want to save money

What Do Uber and Lyft Look Like?

Lyft originally identified its vehicles with furry pink mustaches on the front (called “car-staches”), but the company has since tossed that advertising campaign in favor of devices called Amps. The Lyft Amp attaches magnetically to the dashboard of a ridesharing vehicle and lights up with a unique color, similar to the lights on top of a taxi. Passengers who are waiting for a ride can see the color of their ride in the Lyft app so they know what to look for, which is particularly useful when calling a ride after dark, or when leaving a venue where there will likely be a high volume of rideshares. Uber uses a system similar to Lyft's Amp called Uber Beacon, which helps passengers identify the cars they’re waiting for. Both apps help drivers and riders identify one another, as well, by providing license plate numbers and basic car descriptions.

Is There a Difference in Cost?

Uber’s fares are calculated by adding a base far price, the time and distance of your ride, the class of vehicle that you selected, and the demand for rideshares in your location. Uber implements what it calls "surge pricing" during times of peak demand, say around 1 a.m. on New Year's Eve, which adds a multiplier to the price of your ride. Even though ride prices vary by time, location, and destination, the Uber app allows customers to estimate their fares ahead of time.

The cost of a Lyft ride is based on location, vehicle class, number of miles traveled, total minutes traveled, the base charge for each ride, a service fee that is added to each ride charge, and a "prime time" charge for rides during the peak hours. The app gives riders an exact price for their ride in certain cities and an estimated price in others. With both services, changing your destination in the middle of a ride will tack on additional fees.

Customers of both companies can tip their drivers through the app at the end of a ride or by using the old fashioned way — cash. Regardless of how you pay, drivers with both companies keep 100% of their tips. To save on costs, passengers can split the cost of a ride with fellow passengers as long as they do so before or during the ride.

Do Uber and Lyft Use Self-Driving Cars?

Uber began to test self-driving vehicles back in 2015 with hopes that the vehicles could dramatically lower its labor costs in the future. The company has since encountered several snags, however, and is currently engaged in a lawsuit with Alphabet, Google’s parent company, over allegations that Uber did not develop its own driverless car technology, but instead stole trade secrets from Google’s self-driving car spin-off, Waymo.

After a failed attempt to deploy self-driving cars in San Francisco, Uber began offering driverless rides in Tempe, Arizona, with two Uber engineers in the front seat to handle any vehicle control problems that arose. Despite that safeguard, in Mar. 2018, an experimental Uber vehicle operating in autonomous mode struck and killed a pedestrian in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Following the incident, Uber took its self-driving fleet of cars off of the road for four months, before resuming testing in Jul. 2018. Uber also has ambitious plans for flying cars, opening an entire branch of the company, called "Uber Elevate," that focuses specifically on developing flying transit systems. 

In May, Google-owned Waymo joined forces with Lyft. Details of the deal are scant, but the obvious implication is that the partnership would allow Lyft to use driverless cars in its fleet and remain competitive with Uber. Plans are in the works for Lyft to test a fleet of fully-electric, autonomous Chevrolet Bolt cars within the next few years. In Dec. 2017 the company started deploying self-driving cars developed by Boston-based startup NuTonomy in the Boston Seaport District. Like Uber's first batch of self-driving cars, Lyft's autonomous vehicles have a human in the driver's seat who can take the wheel in the event of an emergency. Both companies expect to have thousands of autonomous vehicles on the streets of major U.S. cities by 2020.

What Other Businesses Do Uber and Lyft Own?

Uber and Lyft have both established themselves in the food delivery game, as well. Uber launched the UberEats App in Mar. 2016, a direct response to food delivery service GrubHub and the first time a ridesharing company had entered the food industry. Less than a year later in Dec. 2016, McDonald's announced that it would be partnering with UberEats as it expanded into delivery. By Dec. 2017, UberEats was able to turn a profit in 40 of the 165 in which it operated.

Lyft has yet to release a food delivery service that can compete with UberEats, but the company has explored partnerships with fast food companies in the past. In Jul. 2017, Lyft partnered with Taco Bell to launch a feature called, "Taco Mode," which essentially allowed users in a Lyft to press a button on their phone and detour their ride to the nearest Taco Ball. Interestingly, the service was only available between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. We can't imagine why.

On Jul. 2, 2018, Lyft announced that the company planned to purchase Motivate, the operator of Citi Bike in New York City and other bike-rental services in other U.S. cities. Lyft did not disclose details of the deal, though Bloomberg reported that the deal is said to be around $250 million. In Apr. 2018, Uber acquired an electric-bike rental startup called Jump Bikes for $200 million. Jump Bikes continues to operate through the company's own app as well as directly through the Uber app in select cities.

Lyft and Uber have also entered the popular, and increasingly controversial, electric scooter industry. On Sept. 6, 2018, Lyft announced that it had deployed 350 electric scooters in Denver, Colorado and expanded its operations to Santa Monica on Sept. 17. Uber has since invested a sizable amount into scooter start-up Lime and began to provide electric scooter service to metropolitan areas under the Jump company name.

The Bottom Line

Uber and Lyft both offer innovative alternatives to traditional taxi services by giving passengers more convenience and control over how they travel. Despite competing in the same market, however, the two ridesharing companies have just as many similarities as they do differences.

Most notably, perhaps, is the difference in the companies' sizes and reputations. Uber is a far larger company than Lyft, not only in terms of market value but also in terms of its presence in the media. In the last year alone, the ridesharing giant has received negative press for sexual harassment lawsuits, cutthroat work conditions, and low employee wages. The company was also accused of trying to profit from a New York protest against Trump's travel ban in Jan. 2017, which led to the #deleteuber social media campaign. These controversies ultimately culminated in Uber ousting its former chief executive Travis Kalanick.

Due to its size and stature, Lyft has so far managed to avoid many of the controversies Uber has faced. The ridesharing company is not without its own set of problems, though, no matter the scale. In May 2017, the New York-based Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) accused Lyft of cheating drivers out of their wages. At the time of writing, no charges have been filed against the company.