7OYS discovers which ride-share services are most reliable, cheapest

7 On Your Side's Michael Finney put several ride-sharing services to the test to find out which are the most reliable.
January 31, 2014 8:07:51 PM PST
If you're looking for a ride home after a Friday night out, it's now easier than ever because several ride services have rolled out in the past couple of years.

They claim it's cheaper and faster than taking a cab, so 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney put them to the test.

It seems every couple of months, there's a new transportation network company ready to send a car to pick you up.

The latest trend is to use a smartphone app to dispatch everyday folks in their personal cars. So, how reliable are they? And how much will you pay?

We decided to do a little test.

It used to be a challenge to get a taxi in San Francisco, but now it seems everybody wants to give you a ride.

"Back in the day all you had was taxis and now there's all these other options," producer Ricquel Newman said.

A host of new services let you summon a driver by tapping your smartphone.

Suddenly, it's not such a problem to be stranded somewhere at midnight.

"Very important especially for a single female," Newman said.

So which services are the most reliable and which is the least expensive?

Newman tested the most popular ride services like uberX, Lyft and Sidecar.

The three companies all set their own rates and do add charges when demand surges.

We also tested Flywheel, an app that summons the nearest San Francisco taxi. The cab fares are regulated by the city and there is no surge pricing.

Newman used each service during rush hour on a 1.8 mile trip to AT&T Park.

It was a non-scientific test done during the 5 p.m. rush hour on a Tuesday and Thursday night. Different days could bring different results.

We begin with Lyft, the cars with the pink moustaches.

The Lyft app says our car is six minutes away. But 10 minutes later, there was no sign of a car. Now, the app says it's eight minutes away.

"I requested you, but the time keeps changing," Newman said.

We counted 26 minutes before the car pulled up and there's no moustache. The driver tells Newman the fuzzy pink branding makes him a target for vandals.

The Lyft car whisks Newman to the ball park. The fare was $12 and there was no extra charge for peak hour demand.

Next, we call uberX. This service has temporarily slashed basic rates by 20 percent, though it still does multiply fares during peak demand.

Our driver arrives in six minutes. He gets Newman to the park in 11 minutes and the price was $9.19. Again, there was no extra charge for high demand.

Now we try Sidecar, but the app wouldn't connect.

After several attempts, the app finally worked. A driver in a red Prius was three minutes away. After a 10 minute wait, he pulls up and they're off.

"When I got in the car he offered me candy. Valentine's Day candy," Newman said.

That ride cost $11 and once again there was no surge pricing.

Finally, we try Flywheel the cab service. We know it will charge regulated taxi rates and Flywheel adds a $1 fee.

The app keeps telling us it's contacting drivers. Then, we turn around and the cab is already there. It took three minutes and they're off to the park.

Here are our results: uberX was cheapest at $9.19, then Sidecar at $11, Lyft was $12 and Flywheel was $12.20, all of these minus the tip.

"The main thing with taxis is you always know what the price is going to be" Flywheel CEO Steve Humphreys said.

Humphreys says peak hour pricing makes the other services more expensive than taxis.

For timing, Flywheel was fastest at three minutes, uberX was next at six, Sidecar took 10 minutes. The Lyft wait was the longest.

Lyft tells us the long delay was a fluke. The owner got trapped in a construction zone. Lyft says its records show our wait was just 19 minutes, not 26. And its average wait is just 3.8 minutes.

As for the trouble we had connecting with Sidecar, the company says it just upgraded the app. Users need to download the latest version to connect properly.

A spokesperson also said Sidecar fares are much cheaper than a taxi.

The company issued this statement: "On average you will find that Sidecar has the most competitive price for rideshare in San Francisco."

With all these apps you can plug in your destination and find out the estimated cost of your ride before you request it.

Overall, we found it was much easier to get a ride using an app than it was by calling a dispatcher the old fashioned way.

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