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Car Wars: Uber and Lyft compete for Tuscaloosa riders

Camille Studebaker, Mike Finnegan

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Always two there are; no more, no less. Now, In Tuscaloosa, national ride sharing companies Uber and Lyft are squaring of in a local battle for the dollars of riders. 

After nearly a full school year in Tuscaloosa, Uber has proven itself to be a popular ride-sharing service for students at The University of Alabama. After Uber’s arrival to town, Lyft, a service strikingly similar to Uber, became available in Tuscaloosa as well on March 23.

While the two seem to offer the same ride sharing service to consumers, Uber’s brand made its impact in Tuscaloosa first, and it has stuck with students.

Regardless of pricing, Allie McKee, a sophomore majoring in advertising, uses Uber instead of Lyft every time she is in need of a ride.

“I use Uber instead of Lyft because it is the first ride-sharing brand that comes to mind when needed,” she said.

Because her Uber account is already set up on her phone, it is quick and easy for her to get a ride when needed. She said most of her peers use Uber, so she has followed their lifestyles with ride sharing. Most of her friends use Uber as a term rather than a brand, so it is always on her mind when choosing a ride sharing service.

“Uber is the number one ride sharing brand in the nation as of now, so brand [and popularity] is definitely something that has to do with my decision,” she said. “Since the people I spend the most time with use Uber, I will use it also just because they are satisfied with it.”

McKee does not have the Lyft app, nor will she start checking Lyft prices in the future.

Amanda Buckholt, a senior majoring in marketing, believes Uber is more dominant in Tuscaloosa because of its brand, which says, “We’re all about technology moving the physical world.”

As opposed to Uber, Lyft’s brand is much more bubbly. 

“You know a Lyft ride when you see one, and a #LyftLove story when you hear one,” Buckholt said. 

According to its patrons, Lyft’s hashtag use makes it appear peppy and contemporary to consumers.

“I think Uber tries to portray itself as more sleek and modern, and Lyft tries to give off more of a sense of humor,” she said.

Uber’s brand color palette contains black, cool gray and blue, while Lyft’s is pink, purple, gray and white, and it used to have mustaches on their cars. All of this branding can affect pricing between the two.

“I think Uber is the type to portray itself as very technologically innovative and modern which allows it to charge higher prices to its consumers because they perceive themselves as giving a better service,” she said.

In addition to its brand, Buckholt said everybody in Tuscaloosa knows about Uber, but not a lot of people have heard about Lyft.

“I think it’s because Uber came first to the market, so everybody immediately adopted it, and then Lyft came, and there wasn’t really a need to switch to Lyft when Uber already existed,” she said.

Regardless of brand impact, Buckholt said she recently downloaded the Lyft app and will check it in the future, because while the two are essentially the same service, she believes Lyft is cheaper in Tuscaloosa.

Pricing differs city to city based on a variety of factors including regulations and the economic idea of market equilibrium based on supply and demand. In Tuscaloosa, Uber works on an upfront fare policy, meaning the rider will be charged the estimated fare initially seen before booking the trip. However, if the trip takes significantly longer than expected, the charge can be increased, in which case the rider will receive a receipt detailing why the surcharge was added.

Lyft’s pricing system works the exact same way in regard to upfront charging, which can be altered if the ride takes an inordinate amount of time. However, Lyft’s price estimate for a ride will not always be available given that it is so new to Tuscaloosa.

Both companies quote on the “Help” section of their web pages that the “surging” and “prime time” charges are their incentives for drivers to stay on the road during the busiest times, which are often the times drivers would rather not be working. While the two companies acknowledge the price increase affects customers and reduces demand, they note that it is there to insure there are enough drivers such that ride requests do not go unnoticed.

Because the pricing and surcharges are calculated the exact same way, checking both apps on a popular night to see if either are surging or experiencing prime time, and then choosing the service with the smaller mark-up would be most cost-efficient.

The mark-ups work on the ratio of drivers to ride requests so, while Uber has more drivers in Tuscaloosa, there are likely to be more ride requests.

On the contrary, Lyft may be getting fewer ride requests, but they have fewer drivers for the time being. The prices will reflect how supply and demand are being met, and because Uber and Lyft will have two different supplies and demands, there can often be different prices.

In addition to pricing, customers sometimes question the safety of both companies’ drivers and their background checks.

McKee’s only concern with both companies is that as they continue to expand, they will have to begin hiring more drivers from a wider range of the population. With that, she says, comes safety, since there will be a larger opportunity for there to be drivers who may not be safe to ride with.

Buckholt said she does not have concerns about safety with either company, but she is sometimes concerned that Uber is not very thorough with their background checks. Nonetheless, she has never experienced a bad driver.

Rhonda Stricklin, Associate Director for the UA Center for Advanced Public Safety, said while she does not have an opinion on one or the other, she does support either service as an alternative to drinking and driving.

“I am glad there are now additional options for students to enable them to get to their destinations safely rather than ever attempting to drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs,” she said. “DUI not only endangers the life of the driver but the lives of others as well, so it is something to think very seriously about and make travel plans before drinking. With Uber or Lyft, you can schedule safe travel ahead of time so that you aren’t tempted to drive when impaired.”

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Car Wars: Uber and Lyft compete for Tuscaloosa riders