If you live in a major urban area, you’ve probably already used Lyft or Uber to get around – and may even have tried their new ride-sharing services: LyftLLine and UberPool. City planners and governments have tried for years to get people to stop clogging up roadways with one-passenger cars. Why commute long distances by yourself when you could do it with somebody else for less cost? The HOV lane is one attempt at a solution, but then the sharing economy came along. Do you still need your own car?
Using Lyft Line and UberPool – How It Works
Uber and Lyft, the two biggest non-taxi, non–public transportation ride companies in the world, asked the same question. Their answers were UberPool and Lyft Line. Instead of driving your own car, you can ride with somebody (or multiple people) who are going in the same general direction.
You get on the app for either company, tell it where you’re going and that you’re OK with sharing, and it does that computer thing and spits out a price, assuming that you’ll be riding with at least one other person. According to Uber’s website it’s up to 40% cheaper than UberX – sounds like a pretty good deal.
Doing the Math
Some people say that this new twist on carpooling is our getting us ready for self-driving cars (yes, conspiracy theory). At some point in the near future we’ll all be cramming into self-driving cars as we’re shuttled around town. Get used to it now, they say, because in the future you won’t have a car of your own if you’re an urban dweller. You might drive around with a robot in the front seat, kind of like K-2S0 in “Rogue One.” For now, though, you can still choose. Is this whole Pool and Line thing better than simply keeping your car? (For more, see Tesla Says Self-Driving Cars Can’t Be Used for Ride-Sharing Services.)
First, let’s look at it economically. Not surprisingly, Uber says that it’s much more affordable to get an Uber than to drive. In a blog post, Uber lets you do the math yourself. If you drive 25 times per month, your average cost per trip is $32.68. Let’s say you live in Atlanta and use UberPool; you’ll pay $8.50 per trip on average. That’s an estimate, of course, but every urbanite knows the challenges of finding parking spots on the street, paying for garage parking, driving in congested cities and carrying all of those fixed costs for a car you probably don’t use much anyway. If you drive more frequently, say 50 times per month, the cost goes down to $16.34 per trip, which is still twice as high as UberPool.
AAA also did the math. According to AAA’s 2015 study Your Driving Costs, the monthly cost of owning a car is about $725. That means you could take about 85 UberPool trips in Atlanta at the average price before it makes economic sense to own a car. Prices vary depending on the complicated way that the companies calculate the fare, but it’s still going to be hard not to save money with ride sharing.
It’s Not Just About Money
With those numbers, why aren’t Uber and Lyft putting the urban car business out of business? Because people don’t like it. Uber and Lyft drivers resent that they aren’t making extra money for the hassle, while riders disdain having to ride a little further out of their way to pick up a potentially off-putting passenger who might make for an awkward trip. Even worse, they might have to travel shoulder to shoulder with several more such strangers carrying way too many bags. And what if they smell? (Yes,people worry about that.)
If it sounds a little dramatic, a quick internet search will reveal plenty of articles about the woes of UberPool and Lyft Line. It’s apparently so bad that people don’t care about the 40% savings and just opt for the regular Uber and Lyft.
The Bottom Line
Are these ride-sharing services better for your wallet than owning a car? Absolutely, as long as you have some flexibility in your daily schedule and your commute is relatively short. However, the bigger question to ask is, “Does the money I’m saving make me happy enough to endure potential social torture each time I get into a car?” Only you can answer that. (For more, see BMW Launches Ride-Sharing and Rental Service and Does Your Landlord Give You an Uber Subsidy?.)