Uber announced its carpooling service late on a Tuesday — 8:30 p.m. on the East Coast, which is strange. Usually companies tout new features earlier in the day to take advantage of the news cycle. But Uber was trying beat competitor Lyft to the punch: The rival ride-sharing service planned to launch its own carpooling product, Lyft Line, on Wednesday with a feature in the New York Times. Business is business, I guess.
But Lyft Line seems like a fully realized product, where UberPool is still in private beta. Lyft's carpooling feature is now live for iOS users in San Francisco with plans to expand to Android and other cities in the near future. Where the UberPool announcement was light on the details, Lyft Line was spelled out in a Wednesday blog post. When you open the app to request a ride, you set your destination, too. The app will search for another rider heading the same way — if it finds one, you'll see the total fare before a driver picks you up. If it doesn't find one, you'll still get the same steep discount on your solo ride.
Lyft Line fares will be up to 60 percent less than the average Lyft ride. Uber said its UberPool fares will be 40 percent less than standard — no word on whether carpools will be subject to surge prices, though.
Lyft has always positioned itself as a way to reduce the number of cars on the road. Lyft drivers in most cities — except for New York — are average folks using their own vehicles. The company emerged from Zimride, Lyft cofounder John Zimmer's carpooling startup. The idea is to make the commute easier — and cheaper — so you can rely on your car less.
"Every day, 90 percent of Lyft rides have someone else taking the same trip within five minutes," the company said in its announcement. "So we wondered: What if we connected them? And created a new way to ride."
Carpooling seems like a better fit for Lyft, with its fist bumps, pink mustaches, and feel-good tagline ("Your friend with a car"), than Uber, best known as an on-demand black car service. The weirdness of splitting a ride with a stranger might be less of an issue with Lyft, which already encourages drivers and passengers to chat. In the company's early days, Lyft drivers requested that you sit up front with them instead of in the back like you would in a cab. I can't imagine doing that with Uber.
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