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mobile journalism by the UCLA Daily Bruin

From Point A to Point B: Which Transport App Should You Use?

photoFor many students, the words “Uber,” “Lyft” and “Sidecar” mean little, but the long-term savings they accumulate for car-less students who choose these transportation apps instead of traditional cabs are truly substantial. These lower-cost transport alternatives consistently charge less than taxis for the same distance.

Competing mobile transport apps include Flywheel and Taxi Magic, both of which work by connecting app users to conventional cab companies. With a credit or debit card number, a smartphone in most cases and perhaps a Facebook profile, you can find yourself on the go in a matter of minutes, with no cash in hand necessary!

Here’s the lowdown on each of these apps, based on my personal experience, for the time-starved Mojo reader.

1) Uber: A San Francisco-based, venture-funded startup dating from 2010, Uber initially connected app users to private town car and SUV driving companies, catering to a segment of the population vastly different from college students. However, since 2012, Uber has introduced UberX, a lower-cost alternative with regular cars whose cost rivals, or is below that of, a regular taxi. During peak hours when demand for cars are high, all three forms of Uber switch to “surge pricing,” which results in higher rates. Before requesting an Uber driver, estimated time until arrival at the GPS-pinpointed location is displayed and users are able to track their driver, whose rating and name are provided, as he makes his way to their exact location. Fare quotes are available before requesting a ride, but drivers do not know how long your trip will take until they arrive. Payment is automatic via credit or debit card, and you rate each driver after the end of each trip.


Bottom line review: If you want to arrive in style (at a high price), an Uber town car or UberSUV (generally a Cadillac Escalade) this is the thing for you. UberX is good for going short distances as well due to its relatively low $3 minimum charge. Estimated arrival times are usually accurate and fares tend to be as quoted. Would not recommend during surge pricing.

2) Sidecar: Like Uber, Sidecar is also the product of an SF-based company and has driver tracking, name, car, rating and estimated arrival times, but unlike Uber, Sidecar promotes the concept of “ridesharing” and a neighborhood feel to the transport service it provides.  Sidecar’s drivers use compact vehicles that seat up to 4 passengers. Recently, Sidecar has added orange mirror socks to make finding your Sidecar on the street more efficient. There is an $8 minimum suggested donation, meaning extremely short distances (like from the Hill to South Campus) may cost the same as a somewhat longer adventure beyond Westwood. Sidecar drivers need to know your final destination before you request a ride, and you are also able to calculate a fare quote a la Uber. For now, Sidecar’s payment system works in the form of  suggested donations, where users of the app are given a calculated amount to pay, but customers are able to increase and decrease the amount they pay, technically down to nothing. However, both Sidecar and Lyft (mentioned below) are intending to roll out specific payments similar to Uber.


Bottom line: Sidecar is cheaper than Uber and Lyft for medium- to long-distance trips, but more expensive for short-distance trips because of the $8 suggested minimum donation. Estimated arrival times tend to be underestimated, meaning you may wait longer than expected, but fare quotes tend to be as quoted. If it’s cheaper, who can complain?

3) Lyft: Yet another SF-based company, Lyft also promotes peer-to-peer ridesharing and provides users with compact vehicles. However, signing up for Lyft requires a Facebook profile (sorry, FB-conscientious objectors!).  Like Uber and Sidecar, users can see who their drivers are, what car they are driving and how far away they are. Lyft cars are distinguished by the large pink mustaches attached to their grill.  Lyft drivers are encouraged to greet their customers with a fist bump, an indicator of Lyft’s commitment to establishing a greater ridesharing community and a more social, fun experience for passengers. Up until now, Lyft has operated on a donation-based system similar to Sidecar, but has plans to switch to a minimum payment-based system. As mentioned in the linked Los Angeles Times article, Lyft announced that it recently began testing a 25% tip system during peak hours, called Prime Time Tips, here in LA.


Bottom line: Lyft is somewhat more expensive than Sidecar, but estimated arrival times are more accurate. Generally, Lyft is cheaper than UberX. Use when you need to be somewhere on time. Would not recommend at peak hours once Prime Time Tips are implemented.

4) Taxi Magic: Taxi Magic works by connecting users to taxi companies, helping people avoid waiting on hold when trying to call for a cab. Unlike Lyft, Uber or Sidecar, Taxi Magic allows you to request a cab for a later time. Like the aforementioned apps, it provides vehicle tracking, as well as a fare estimate like Uber. Taxi Magic does not require a smartphone, as you can use text or the Web to request a taxi, and allows you to tip the driver via credit card after the ride is over. As its promoters repeat over and over, Taxi Magic differs from ridesharing companies and Uber in that it aims to reinvent, rather than replace using relatively unregulated companies, the existing taxi industry. Taxi Magic charges $1.50 in credit card fees per  transaction and automatically charges 20% tip for your trip.


Bottom line: Use Taxi Magic when you need to book a taxi in advance or for an early morning ride, as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar generally don’t operate at off-peak hours. However, it costs as much as a typical taxi plus $1.50. 

5) Flywheel: Similar to Taxi Magic but unable to provide scheduled pickups, Flywheel provides an easy way of hailing a cab with a $1 service fee. Flywheel dates back to 2009 and shows users a map of their taxi as it makes it way toward the pickup location and applies a 20% tip by default, although you are able to change this amount manually.


Bottom line: We don’t recommend Flywheel based on its price and our previous experiences. 

Have gripes with these recommendations? Want to make your voice heard? Comment below or tweet us @dbmojo.

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