How well do Lyft, Uber and taxis get you around Baltimore?

December 10, 2013|By Julie Scharper | The Baltimore Sun

Cars with pink mustaches and fist-bumping drivers. Rides in glossy town cars or SUVs. New ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber are giving Baltimore's standard taxi cabs a run for their money.

To see how these companies compare, reporter Julie Scharper and photographer Lloyd Fox rode between the Avenue in Hampden and the corner of Broadway and Thames Street in Fells Point on a dreary recent morning.

Lyft

Ease of use of app: 4 stars (out of 4)

Wait time for arrival:11 min.

Quality of vehicle: 4 stars

Cleanliness of vehicle: 4 stars

Conversation with driver: 4 stars

Safety of ride: 4 stars

Cost of ride: $15 (passengers set their own donation; $5 was suggested for our ride)

Method of payment: Credit card entered in app; no cash changes hands

Website: lyft.me

Ever since cars around Baltimore started sporting furry pink mustaches a few weeks ago, we've been intrigued by the whole concept of Lyft. The company, which started in San Francisco last year, aims to give the feel of catching a ride with a friend. Drivers use their own cars. Passengers decide how much they want to pay. Fist bumps are exchanged.

It all sounds so West Coast — and ripe for corruption, Baltimore-style. What if your driver is a whack job? How can drivers trust passengers not to stiff them? Are we really mature enough for this?

Spoiler alert: Believe, Baltimore. Lyft is pretty damn cool. First of all, as soon as you open the app, you can see where all the Lyft cars are driving. They look like little 2D Monopoly cars roving over the map of Baltimore. We hit the button to "Request Lyft" from the Avenue in Hampden. Within a few seconds, the app informed us that a car was 11 minutes away.

It even showed us a photo of the driver and car and told us the driver's name, so we knew what to expect. This could also be a handy feature if, say, your ex, is a Lyft driver. With a quick click, you can dismiss a driver and request a different one.

Exactly 11 minutes later, Regina Santiful pulled up in her impeccably clean silver Mercedes. Yesiree, Bob, a real Mercedes with the little peace sign-esque thingie on the hood. A big change of pace from a dented Corolla full of old reporter's notebooks and empty water bottles.

We got in the back seat (Lyft actually encourages passengers to sit in the front and fiddle with the radio, but we didn't know that) and Regina reached back for the traditional Lyft fist bump. I give the fist bump three out of four stars. It was warm and lighthearted, but lacked any sort of Fred Flintstone "Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo" flourishes.

Regina punched our destination into her version of the app and hit the road. She was charming and pleasantly chatty, and seemed familiar in a Smalltimore kind of way. She took a direct route to Fells Point andwasn't fazed by road construction; frankly, the ride seemed like it was over almost too quickly. She hit a button on her phone when we arrived and my phone informed me that we had reached our destination (a handy feature if you are only capable of interfacing with the world through your phone).

The app simultaneously told me the suggested donation for the ride was $5 and asked me to rate Regina and write a little review of her. It was confusing to be presented with all of this at once. I thought I would do the review first and then increase the amount of the donation, but I wound up giving the $5 donation without realizing it. Then I thought I hadn't given her any money and she thought she had screwed up the app on her end, so I wound up going to great lengths to game the app to give her another $10.

When you give significantly more than the suggested donation, little fireworks explode on your screen, kind of like when you win Solitaire, which made me feel like Melinda Gates. All in all, we had a great experience with Lyft. Once I figured out how the payment/rating thing worked, it wasn't confusing at all.

Lyft might not feel as comfy as catching a ride with a friend, but it did feel like hopping in the car of a neighbor you didn't know that well — and what more could you hope for from a ride from a stranger in Baltimore?


Uber

Ease of use of app: 3 stars

Wait time for arrival: 24 min. (app screwed up our location)

Quality of vehicle: 4 stars

Cleanliness of vehicle: 4 stars

Conversation with driver: 3 stars

Safety of ride: 4 stars

Cost of ride: $61 (minus $10 promo)

Method of payment: Credit card entered in app; no cash changes hands

Website: uber.com

The Uber app, like Lyft, shows little 2-D cars moving around. Prompting the question: When will someone create an Uber-Lyft mash-up app where the two companies' cars battle each other?

Uber offers riders three different types of cars. There's UberX, which sounds like it's designed for slackery misfits that are stuck in the '90s, but actually means it's just a regular (newish, clean) car. Then there's a "black car," which is the sort of glossy town car in which politicians are driven around.

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