Lyft Has Launched in Philadelphia — Is it Any Different From Uber?

The PPA is performing sting operations, but Lyft remains operational in Philadelphia. Here's how the app compares to Uber.

Promotional photos from the press kits of Uber (left) and Lyft

Promotional photos from the press kits of Uber (left) and Lyft

Ride-hailing app Lyft launched in Philadelphia on Friday evening, and it went generally as expected: As the taxi association warned, the PPA conducted sting operations. The authority impounded a vehicle after a sting operation that began in Fishtown and ended at the Airport (where at least it would be easy for the driver to hop on SEPTA or hire a licensed taxi). The PPA cited another driver, a licensed limo driver who responded to a Lyft request.

Despite Lyft’s illegality, people will still use the service in Philadelphia as an UberX alternative. I used Lyft over the weekend, and also used it before it launched in Philadelphia for a ride to the airport when I was in Miami. A few thoughts on how it compares to Uber from my limited sample.

Lyft is pretty similar to UberX. Though it has a premium option in some cities, Lyft only has one option right now in Philly. It’s a service closest to UberX: Someone picks you up in a nondescript midrange car like a Corolla or a Civic. Drivers and passengers rate each other. The prices appear to be pretty close after UberX’s 35-percent drop in Philly rates. (Uber is better-known and has more financial support, so perhaps it will be able to undercut Lyft in the end.) Lyft has a “prime time” cost-bump that’s similar to Uber’s “surge pricing.” One can imagine Lyft is similar to Uber in another way, too: It’s more likely to go to a bad neighborhood and pick up passengers cabs tend to avoid. If you want to order a luxury car though an app, though, Uber is your choice in Philly right now.

The tone is different. Look at the two promotional photos at the top of the page, provided by each company. The slogans tell the tale: “Everyone’s Private Driver” (Uber) versus “Your Friend With a Car” (Lyft). Lyft’s logo would be more appropriate for ordering an on-demand clown than a car service. Uber makes you feel like a rich person. Does this matter much? I don’t know, you’re already using a luxury app that’s relatively unnecessary, might as well use the one that makes you feel fancy.

Lyft is a tad cheaper during prime hours. At least, according to this helpful Lyft vs. Uber website.

Lyft is missing one big feature. Uber lets users input a destination address and get an estimated fare in the app. You can enter a destination address into Lyft, but there’s no fare estimation tool in the app. You have to go to a website, enter “Philadelphia” and then type in your start and destination addresses. One thing that makes the Uber app so useful is the ability to get an estimate on how much a trip will cost. You can then figure out if it’s worth it to use the app rather than take the subway, walk or whatever. With Lyft, this takes an extra step.

Drivers still have no idea where they’re going. A friend used Lyft for a trip from Fishtown to a bar near the Cheesesteak Nexus. The driver had no idea where that was, and had to get the Ninth and Passyunk address from them. In Miami, the driver — who was awesome — had to put the address for the airport into GPS. The advantage of a taxi is the driver generally knows where he’s going at all times, and knows the fastest route.

With Lyft, you control the tip. Uber includes the tip in the price of the trip. With Lyft, you add a tip — the suggestions are $1, $2 and $5, but you can enter whatever — after the trip. This happens the next time you open the app. You can even add a tip much later, if you decide in a dream your driver was more fantastic than you’d realized before.

The photos of the drivers are larger in Lyft, and you get a photo of the car, too. Okay, we’re stretching this now. Look, the services are very similar. I suspect Uber vs. Lyft may come down to “which one has a car closer to me right now” for many Philadelphians.

Or, you know, you could ignore all of this and just call a cab. However you’d like to get around.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.