Driver Apps – Uber vs. Lyft

In the ongoing war between Uber and Lyft is the battle for drivers.  And in the driver battle, the respective driver apps of each company are the key weapon. Both companies pay almost exactly the same, the work from the drivers’ standpoint is nearly identical, so with the exception of a few little differences in...

In the ongoing war between Uber and Lyft is the battle for drivers.  And in the driver battle, the respective driver apps of each company are the key weapon.

Both companies pay almost exactly the same, the work from the drivers’ standpoint is nearly identical, so with the exception of a few little differences in their bonus and rewards structures there isn’t much more than can do to lure drivers other than trying to have a better app.

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The company with the best app should be able to bring in more drivers and just as importantly, should be able to keep more drives on their system for more hours each day.  If once Lyft gets a driver online, that driver stays online longer than they would have – that’s a win for Lyft.  Every hour a driver is online with Lyft is an hour they’re not online with Uber.  And that adds to Uber’s driver recruiting expense.  They’ll have to recruit more drivers to fill the same number of hours.

So, in the battle of apps – the goal is to create the app that annoys drivers least!  Drivers will stay online longer with whichever app annoys them least.

Full time drivers spend many hours a day, possibly hundreds of hours a month, with these apps as their de facto bosses.  And as any employer can tell you – it’s not only about which company pays the best – it’s also about working environment and conditions.  And in the case of Uber and Lyft – pay is almost exactly the same – so it’s not even a consideration.  That makes other factors far more important.  The driver app interface is the way Uber and Lyft interact with their drivers.  So, it is through the apps that these two companies have the ability to create a working environment – which makes the apps extremely important.

As we speak, Uber is slowly rolling out a brand new app that is going to be fairly different from the previous one.  But we will compare the current Uber app to the Lyft app – since the vast majority of drivers have not yet received the new Uber app.

Things Uber’s and Lyft’s Driver Apps Have in Common

Overall, the two apps are very similar.  They perform the same basic function, which are to:

  • notify drivers they have a passenger;
  • give drivers the opportunity to accept or decline an incoming call from a passenger;
  • both apps show the passenger’s rating when the call comes in;
  • once a driver accepts a call, both apps route them to the passenger’s pickup location;
  • when drivers arrive at passenger’s pickup location, both apps display a wait-time timer;
  • once passenger is in the car, both apps allow drivers to manually start the trip;
  • both apps route drivers to the passenger’s destination;
  • both apps may add a passenger along the way of your route with the first passenger;
  • both apps may send you another passenger shortly before your current trip ends;
  • both apps require drivers to rate the passenger before they can accept their next trip

Differences Between the Uber and Lyft Driver Apps

With so much in common, let’s spend more of our time looking at some of the significant differences.  Most of the differences boil down to how, where and what types of information are available on the screen.

For instance, one thing that greatly annoys drivers who drive in locations where there are multiple jurisdictions – where they may be allowed to drive in more than one Uber or Lyft district – Uber shows them information for only the jurisdiction, or district, they’re in.  Lyft shows them information for the entire area they’re allowed to drive in.

For instance, New York City drivers have to be licensed by the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission.  Once licensed by the New York TLC they are then also approved to drive in New Jersey.

New Jersey drivers on the other hand aren’t allowed to do pickups anywhere New York unless they become licensed by the NY TLC.  So, most New Jersey drivers are only able to drive in New Jersey.

On the Lyft app, drivers can see surges in all the areas they’re authorized to drive in.  In this screenshot, a driver in Brooklyn can see surges all over New York City, as well as in New Jersey – which is across the Hudson River on the far left-hand side of the image.

Taxi & Limousine Commission drivers on the other hand are allowed to drive in New Jersey and New York.  And no matter where a Taxi & Limousine Commission driver is, Lyft will show them surges and other information in both New York and New Jersey.  Uber will only show them information for the area they’re currently in.

An Uber driver might be in New Jersey – but just ten minutes away from New York City.  And New York City might be surging like crazy, but this driver wouldn’t know anything about it.  Because even though it’s just ten minutes away and even though the driver is licensed to drive in New York – Uber, in their wisdom, elects not to show him any information about it because he’s not physically there.

A Lyft driver on the other hand can see the surges in both areas – no matter where they are.

Advantage:  Lyft – by a country mile!

Seeing Earnings

Both apps will show your earnings right after each trip.  But Uber has long had chronic problems showing this information instantly.  Drivers often experience long delays – up to an hour sometimes – before they can see their earnings information on individual Uber trips they’ve completed recently.  Lyft has always been able to show the earnings instantly, right after the trip ends.

Tip:  If there are long delays in seeing your earnings on the Uber app – and you really want to see them now – you can try logging out of the app and completely closing it and then re-opening it and logging in again.  That will often reset things so you can see your earnings.  Also, if you have a second device, you can often see your earnings by opening the Uber app there.  And you can almost always see your earnings posted immediately, by going to in your phone or tablet’s web browser.

Another difference when it comes to displaying earnings is that up until recently, Lyft showed gross earnings while Uber had switched to net earnings a while back.  I used to get seriously annoyed when both of these apps showed gross earnings (i.e. the total fare paid by the passenger).  I didn’t care what the passenger paid – I only wanted to see what I earned.  If the passenger paid $50 but the driver only made $35 – what do they care about seeing $50!  That doesn’t help them at all – because that’s not how much they made on the trip.

So, it was good to see Uber move to a net earnings system a while back and it’s good to see that Lyft is moving to it now.

Advantage:  Uber

Passenger Names

Apparently, when to display passenger names to drivers has become an issue.  Lyft shows drivers the passenger’s name when the call comes in.  Uber doesn’t.  All Uber shows drivers is the passenger’s rating and how many minutes it will take to get to them.

The reason why Uber wouldn’t show the passenger’s name is unclear.  Do they think drivers might associate certain names with a race or ethnicity that they would turn down?  If that’s the case, then why doesn’t Lyft seem to have a problem with drivers turning down riders with certain names?

Why would drivers need to see the passenger’s name up front you might ask?  Obviously, they don’t need to see it because if they did Uber couldn’t get away without showing it to them.  One reason seeing the name up front is it would help the driver to know the name because they’re going to have to know it by the time they pick the passenger up.  If they saw the name up front, it would help them remember the name and save them a little work later on.

Advantage:  Lyft

Contacting Passengers

Both apps have a way to contact passengers directly through the app.  However, Uber’s takes an extra couple of taps.  And when you’re in a competition for the ‘least annoying app’ – each and every tap is an added annoyance.  So, Uber could really improve here.

Uber’s rider contact screen. This screen represents your second tap and you have one more two more to go. You have to tap “Contact” and then you’ll be asked to tap one more time to tell them whether you want to contact by phone or text message.

On the Uber app, you have to tap on the passenger’s name to be taken to the passenger info screen.  From there, you tap contact, and then you have to choose whether you want to text or call the passenger.

On the Uber app, it takes three taps to call a passenger.

The Lyft app only requires two taps to call the passenger.

With the Lyft app, it only takes two taps to call a passenger.  You tap once on the home screen to open the passenger menu and then tap “Call Passenger”.

Advantage:  Lyft

Distance to Passenger

In Uber’s recent driver’s presentation where they announced their new app, soon to be released.  One of the things they really bragged about was that the new app would display not only the time estimate to a passenger’s pickup location, but the actual mileage as well.  The presenter went on and on about how great this was going to be!  That drivers would not only see an estimated length of time to the passenger but that they would now also see the actual distance.

But, as you can see from the screenshot above, Lyft has been showing both metrics for as long as anyone can remember!  Uber’s much-touted new feature turns out to be nothing more than a copy of a feature Lyft has always had.

Advantage:  Lyft

Uber’s Instant Pay vs. Lyft’s Express Pay

Drivers can cash out and get paid instantly with either app.  Uber was the first to have this feature and for a long time they simply did it better than Lyft.  Uber had long allowed drivers to cash out once they had earned just a single dollar with Uber Instant Pay.  While Lyft made drivers wait until they had earned $50 (or $67 in gross fares).

But earning $50 could sometimes take up to six hours or more.  So drivers found that very inconvenient.  Some people even switched to driving solely for Uber during that time because it was really important for them to be able to get their money whenever they wanted it.

Finally though, Lyft came around and dropped the minimum earnings required to cash out to $1.

Both companies charge $0.50 for each cash out.  And they both allow drivers to cash out multiple times per day.  However, with the $0.50 fee, it’s obviously better to cash out no more than once per day.

Advantage:  No advantage – both companies equal here.

One thing I discovered, the hard way, while writing this article is that if you change your debit card information with Uber, they will not allow you to cash out for three business days.  So, if you need to change card numbers, just make sure you do it at a time when you can go three business days without your money.

Before testing Instant Pay with Uber for this article, I decided to have them put the money into a different bank account.  So, I gave them the debit card number for that account, right before I was going to cash out.  When, I clicked the cash out button, this was the shocking message I received on the screen!

“Thanks for your interest in Instant Pay.  Instant Pay isn’t currently available for your account.  You’ll receive your earnings in your next regularly scheduled direct deposit!  Reasons you might be receiving your earnings weekly are:

  • You pay for vehicle financing
  • You’ve fallen in to (sic) arrears with Uber
  • You’ve changed your payment details within the last 72 hours, or your account is flagged by security and we’re taking a closer look at it.”

It sure would have been nice if they could have warned me before I tapped “Submit” on the new card number.  They could have easily sent a message pop-up saying, ‘If you change your bank account information, you will not be able to cash out for three business days.  Are you sure you want to change?’

Lyft on the other hand was able to process this transaction to a new account, flawlessly.

Advantage:  Lyft

Rescue for Airport Drivers

So far, we’ve given Lyft four out of five advantages.  But there is one unique advantage Uber has – that is significant.  Uber has just recently added a feature to the driver app to help drivers who do airport pickups.

The new feature will save drivers who get a short trip from the airport – by saving their place in the queue.  If you get a very short airport trip, you can now go back to the airport and be placed in the front of the line.

This is one of the few smart things Uber has done in a very long time!  Passengers have long complained that airport drivers will call them and ask what their destination is – before they pick them up.  If the driver doesn’t like the destination he’ll ask the passenger to cancel the trip and re-request to get another driver.

This obviously greatly annoys passengers.  However, drivers don’t do this because they’re evil!  They do it because they can wait many hours in the airport queue before getting a call.  Imagine waiting for three or four hours and when your call finally comes in – it’s for a 5-minute trip to the airport hotel and you make just $5.  That’s why drivers call to check on the passenger’s destination.

Uber now has finally put a solution in place that should make those calls to passengers completely unnecessary.  If you get an airport trip that’s too short – Uber will put you right back in the line after you drop off your passenger and return to the airport queue.

Their in-app announcement reads, “Complete quick airport trips and skip the queue.  Have you ever waited at the airport only to get a trip that didn’t pay off?  Now if you get a short-distance trip from EWR or ACY, we’ll hold your spot in the queue for 6 hours, so that you can return to the same airport and get another trip quickly.  If a trip is eligible for short trip protection, we’ll let you know in the app before you accept the trip.”

This is indeed a great change that will take the anxiety out of driving airports and remove the intolerable trip cancellations for passengers.

Advantage:  Uber

Our Take

When all is said and done, Lyft has the advantage in more areas than Uber.  Uber does have the new airport trip protection feature, which is awesome – but Lyft comes out on top so many more times, we’re going to give a slight advantage to Lyft.  Although next time, it might be a little harder to distinguish between them, with Uber copying so many Lyft features on their upcoming app release.  But hey, competition is healthy!


Jonathan Cousar began driving for Uber in 2013 when the ride-hail company first began operations in New York City. He has booked more than 7,000 trips. In 2014 he created Uber Driver Diaries, which was the first blog by an Uber driver describing the highs and lows of driving as well as offering tips and tricks and information on the industry as a whole. In 2016 Ridester acquired the site, and Jonathan began writing full-time about the rideshare industry and the gig economy. He has also done extensive research into driver issues related to pay and working conditions.

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