Two taxi service apps – Uber and Lyft – launch in Raleigh

dbracken@newsobserver.comApril 29, 2014 

Uber and Lyft, two taxi-service smartphone apps that connect passengers with private drivers, launched in the Triangle on Thursday.

Uber promises its passengers fares that are 30 percent cheaper than a traditional taxi, and for the next three weeks it will offer free rides for fares of up to $40.

Lyft, meanwhile, launched simultaneously in 24 new markets on Thursday, including the Triangle. The company’s drivers are recognizable by the fluffy pink mustache that adorns the front of their vehicles.

Both services say they sign up local drivers only after conducting background checks and reviews of driving records.

Rachel Holt, regional general manager for Uber East, said the company interviews all its drivers in person. She said they must be insured in North Carolina for up to $1.5 million.

“These drivers are undergoing requirements that are at the highest end of what we see across … any city for taxis, limos, etc.” Holt said. “ … It also enables folks who may not have been in the transportation business to make a little bit of extra money – in some cases make a lot of extra money.”

Lyft touts its own safety measures, including requiring drivers to have a commercial liability insurance policy in excess of $1 million.

Consumers who download and open the apps in the Triangle will be presented with maps showing their drivers and an estimate of how far away each is. When a passenger is ready to be picked up, they hit a button and are connected to the nearest Uber or Lyft car.

“At that point you know the driver’s name, you have a photo, you have their driver’s license, you know what type of car they drive,” Holt said of Uber’s service. At the end of the ride, both Uber and Lyft automatically bill a passenger’s credit card.

“You don’t even need a wallet,” Holt said.

Uber takes 20 percent of each fare, with the rest going to the driver. There’s no tip included in the basic ride-sharing service Uber is initially offering in the Triangle.

Lyft’s service allows passengers and drivers to rate each other. If a driver gets a poor rating, they will not be matched with that passenger in the future.

Uber increases its prices during peak times or bad weather to get more cars on the road and ensure reliability during the busiest times. The app has a fare estimate feature, as well as a feature that allows passengers to split a fare.

Uber is now operating in about 40 markets in the United States, while Lyft is now in 60 cities after its latest expansion. The services have faced backlash in some markets from existing taxi and limousine services, with accusations that they are operating an illegal taxi operation. Some consumers have also complained of price-gouging.

Holt said the company expands to new markets based on the legal and regulatory environment in a state and potential demand for the service. The state General Assembly last year passed legislation allowing the company to begin operating in North Carolina. Uber launched in Charlotte in September. Lyft’s service is also available in Charlotte.

In Raleigh, taxis are required to be licensed by the city and pass annual inspections. Jim Sughrue, a Raleigh police spokesman, said Uber or Lyft are not required to abide by the same city regulations and restrictions as taxis.

Consumers can still open the Uber app even if they live in a city where the service isn’t offered, and Holt said the company has noticed a growing number of Triangle residents showing interest in the service.

“What we’ve been seeing over the last few months is this huge surge in demand from consumers in Raleigh,” she said.

Uber is initially just providing coverage in Raleigh and to the airport. Within the next few weeks, the service expects to expand to Durham, Chapel Hill and other Triangle communities.

Holt said the company plans to eventually bring its Uber Black service here, which uses licensed sedans and town cars.

The company declined to disclose how many drivers it has signed up initially in Raleigh.

“We ensure that we’ve got enough folks on the system to really be reliable,” Holt said. For Uber, that means pickup times of between 5 and 10 minutes.

Bracken: 919-829-4548; Twitter: @brackendavid

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