At a glance
- High, clear standards for drivers
- Usually cheaper than a taxi
- Good customer service
- Scooters and bikes available in select markets
- Not as widespread worldwide as Uber
- Fewer ride options than Uber
- No food or grocery delivery
Lyft is a popular ridesharing app – also known as a transportation network company, or TNC – that’s available in hundreds of cities and towns across the United States. Like Uber’s similar app, Lyft lets you electronically hail cars driven by independent contractors. In practice, it functions a lot like a taxi service, although it’s far more technologically sophisticated and tends to have shorter wait times.
Lyft offers some other services as well, including car, bike, and scooter rentals in select U.S. cities. Lyft’s membership program, Lyft Pink, is a good deal for frequent riders but not occasional users.
Here’s what you need to know to decide whether Lyft is right for you and to get the most out of it if you decide that’s the case.
Lyft Price Points and Services
Lyft offers several different ride options. Some are widely available, while others are limited to bigger or busier cities or constrained by vehicle supply such that they’re not always around on demand.
This is Lyft’s original service. The typical Lyft vehicle is a compact or midsize sedan with room for four adult passengers. Station wagons, minivans, and compact SUVs with room for six adult passengers or more aren’t uncommon in many places, however. Lyft claims that its classic service is cheaper than a taxi in every market served, notwithstanding demand surcharges.
Lyft Plus (Lyft XL)
Lyft Plus (Lyft XL) is specifically designed for six-passenger rides. The typical Lyft XL vehicle is a minivan or crossover SUV with a third row. Pricing varies by market, but generally runs 25% to 75% more than standard Lyft rides.
Lyft Lux is an even nicer ride, generally in a luxury car driven by one of Lyft’s top drivers. Expect to pay at least 300% more than a standard Lyft.
Lyft Lux XL
Lyft Lux XL vehicles are high-end SUVs with room for at least six passengers. They’re more expensive than Lyft Lux rides, though not much. As always, pricing varies by market.
This is Lyft’s black car option. Expect a darkened interior with leather seats and a stiff premium to standard Lyft fares. The comparison is to premium livery car service, not a taxi.
Lyft Black XL
This is an oversized black car, usually a luxury SUV. Pricing reflects the rarefied ride.
Lyft Shared (formerly Lyft Line) is a shared ride that matches you with fellow riders (strangers) heading in the same general direction. When they involve multiple stops, Lyft Shared rides are longer and less direct than private Lyfts.
Lyft Shared pricing is always fixed upfront and guaranteed to be lower than standard Lyfts, even if you don’t have to share the vehicle with anyone else. I’ve ridden solo in a Lyft Shared a few times, but I’m not sure how common the experience is overall.
Other Lyft Ride Options
Lyft has some additional ride options and configurations that may vary by market:
- Variable Priority Rides. Choose Wait & Save to pay less and wait a bit longer, or opt for Priority Pickup and pay a bit more to cut to the front of the line.
- Preferred. Lyft calls this option “a ride with a top-rated driver in a spacious car.” You have the flexibility to specify a quieter ride, a warmer or cooler interior, and other customizations.
- Access. This is Lyft’s wheelchair-accessible option. The vehicle is usually a modified SUV or minivan.
- Car Seat. Choose this option if you’re carrying a small child in a car seat.
Key Features of the Lyft Ride-Hailing App
The Lyft ride-hailing app has some important features and functions worth noting. These are the most crucial to the user experience.
Request or Schedule a Pickup
As soon as you download the app and your information has been entered into the system, you can request a ride.
You don’t need to specify your destination, and Lyft uses GPS technology (via your cell phone) to ascertain your current location. The app pairs you with a nearby driver who’s available to accept fares, notifying him or her of your location. You’re notified when a driver is on the way.
If you know you’ll need a ride at some future time and date, you can schedule a ride up to 7 days in advance using the same basic process. This service isn’t available in all areas.
Note that you can cancel your scheduled ride up to 30 minutes in advance with no penalty, but cancellations within 30 minutes of your scheduled ride may incur a surcharge.
Track Your Driver
Lyft lets you track your driver while you wait to be picked up. You see a picture of the driver and their car, as well as a real-time map of their route to your location and an estimated arrival time.
Secure Payment, Fares & Fees
Lyft drivers are strictly forbidden from accepting cash payments or tips. When your ride ends, Lyft immediately bills your stored credit card or mobile wallet. Pricing and fee structure vary by city, but generally include:
- Per-minute charges
- Per-mile charges
- Pickup fees or minimum charges
- Safety and/or insurance surcharges
- Locally imposed surcharges
- Airport fees for rides originating and/or terminating at a commercial airport
Lyft keeps a share of riders’ payments and passes the rest on to drivers.
Lyft uses a five-star rating system (one for terrible, five for excellent) to grade drivers and riders. When your ride ends, you have the option of using your app to provide a driver rating. He or she can do the same for you. If you rate a driver with fewer than three stars, the app ensures that you never ride together again.
At the end of the day, Lyft emails you an itemized receipt that outlines your charges and summarizes any rides you took during the previous 24 hours.
Discounts and Referral Bonuses
Lyft may offer city-specific promotions, including ride credits for all new riders and referral bonuses (delivered as ride credits) for existing users who refer new people to the app. Check your local Lyft branch’s Twitter feed or Facebook account for current information.
Lost and Found Feature
At the bottom of your post-ride receipt, there’s a link to report items lost in your driver’s car. You can briefly describe the item and submit, triggering an automatic text message to your driver. If the item is in your driver’s car, they can call you and arrange to meet or have the item shipped to you. Within this feature, there’s an option to tip drivers who go out of their way to return something.
Prime Time (Surge Pricing)
During peak periods, such as weekday rush hours or weekend late nights, Lyft may add a demand surcharge to its standard fares. The aim is to encourage more drivers to hit the road during those periods. The app clearly indicates when the demand surcharge is in effect, and how much extra it will cost (this varies by location and rider demand, but surcharges of more than 200% are rare in my personal experience).
During off times, such as weekday overnights and weekend mornings, Lyft may offer discounted fares. The goal here is to encourage more riders to use the app and keep drivers busy.
Other Lyft Services
Lyft has some other services and capabilities worth noting:
Lyft Pink is a membership program that provides:
- Discounted rides (15% off the regular fare)
- A complimentary Grubhub+ subscription
- Priority airport pickups
- Relaxed cancellation policy
- Free bike and scooter rides in select markets
Bikes and Scooters
In select U.S. markets, Lyft offers reasonably priced bike and scooter rentals for app users. Neither product is station-based, so you can use the app to find the closest option available at the moment.
Lyft offers competitively priced rental cars in select markets, both through its own rental car subsidiary and through Sixt, a separate discount rental car company. Benefits include:
- Up to $20 Lyft ride credit ($10 each way) to get to and from the rental car lot
- Free add-ons like ski racks and child seats
- No fees for additional drivers
- No surcharges for fill-ups (other than gas priced at the local market rate)
Lyft’s Business vertical helps businesses of all sizes organize and streamline their transportation needs. The suite’s expensing and reporting features offer ride- and employee-level granularity, and can easily scale up to accommodate special events involving non-employees.
It’s also useful for businesses looking to provide alternatives to private car and public transportation commutes — a nice help for rapidly growing companies in cities with limited parking.
Advantages of the Lyft Ride-Hailing App
Lyft has some advantages relative to Uber and traditional taxi companies:
- Clear Standards for Drivers. Lyft holds its drivers to higher and clearer standards of courtesy and professionalism than Uber or local taxi companies. Taxi companies, in particular, lack any sort of standardized rating system. If you have complaints about service, you generally have to call a customer hotline or supervisor with no guarantee that anything will come of it.
- Usually Cheaper Than a Taxi. Lyft and Uber fares are more or less equal, though one app is liable to come out ahead of the other on any particular ride. What’s more consistently true is that both apps are cheaper than taxis.
- Lyft Has Scooters and Bikes in Select Cities. In select major U.S. cities, Lyft app users can rent e-scooters or bikes (both pedal powered and electric) for pennies per minute. On shorter trips, these options may be more cost-effective (and definitely better for the environment) than taking a car.
- Lyft Has Rental Cars in Select Cities. You can also rent cars through Lyft in select major U.S. cities. The selection isn’t quite as extensive as you’ll find through Hertz or Avis, but if Lyft itself doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you might find it with Sixt — an established discount rental car company and Lyft’s designated car rental partner in the United States.
- Lyft Pink May Be Worthwhile for Active Riders. If you find yourself taking multiple Lyfts each week, the app’s Lyft Pink loyalty program could be worth the cost. Benefits include a 15% discount on Lyft rides and a free Grubhub+ membership, partly making up for the lack of a built-in food delivery option.
- Good Customer Service. Lyft has long been known as the more customer-friendly of the two major ride-hailing apps, and that remains true today. Its lost-and-found feature and tie-in with major Chase credit cards are just two examples of its above-and-beyond approach to keeping customers happy.
Disadvantages of the Lyft Ride-Hailing App
Lyft has some significant downsides that might push users toward Lyft or local ride-hailing options:
- Lyft Cars Don’t Roam. In denser urban areas, flagging down roaming taxis is much more efficient than calling a ride through an app. Depending on where you live and work, a traditional taxi might be a better bet, at least for shorter trips.
- Lyft Isn’t As Widely Available Overseas. If you’re partial to Lyft, you’ll be disappointed by its international coverage, which remains anemic compared to Uber’s.
- No Built-in Food or Grocery Delivery App. Lyft doesn’t have an equivalent to Uber Eats, Uber’s food delivery app. Other options exist, of course, but Uber Eats is a comfort for people familiar with the Uber interface.
- Fewer Ride Types. Though Lyft has plenty of ride options and a wide range of price points, it fails to tick every box Uber does. For example, Lyft doesn’t have a dedicated eco-friendly vehicle option — you might be lucky enough to pair with an EV or plug-in hybrid, but that’s by no means guaranteed.
How Lyft Stacks Up
The Lyft ride-hailing service has just one significant competitor in the United States: Uber, the “other” anytime-anywhere ride-hailing app.
Here’s how Lyft and Uber stack up against one another:
|Services and Price Points||Fewer||More|
|Food and Goods Delivery||No||Yes|
I had a great experience with Lyft, cutting a significant amount off a standard taxi fare and enjoying a rewarding interaction with a friendly driver. You can aspire to such an experience too, as long as you’re conscious of Lyft’s limitations.
Most importantly, you need to make sure Lyft is authorized to operate in your area. Be aware of your city council’s position on the service, and think twice about using the app if it might land your driver in legal trouble.
And always remember that you have alternatives. There’s no shame in using public transportation or driving yourself if it’s significantly cheaper or more convenient to do so.