By Samantha Reid
Forget cramming onto a crowded subway car or searching in vain for an available taxi. The newest way to get around Chicago comes wearing a pink moustache.
With the process of acquiring the city medallion needed to become an authorized Chicago cab driver becoming more and more difficult, businesses like Uber and Lyft have capitalized on a new market. The companies offer customers an alternative way to get to their destination: simply download either app, and you’re a step closer to a ride home.
Here’s the way it works: smartphone users download the rideshare app of their choice, which use geolocation services to find a driver nearest to their current location. The driver then comes and picks up patrons, drops them off at their desired location and users pay through the app, rather than paying and tipping the driver directly.
The advantages to this kind of system are numerous. Many people don’t carry much cash on them, so the ability to link a credit card directly to the app makes payment quick and easy. Also, users don’t have to stand outside while they search for a cab. The app does the work for you and alerts you when your car has arrived.
For city-dwellers fed up with the unreliability and inconvenience of traditional cabs, Uber and Lyft are a godsend. The services even prompt you to rate your driver after the ride, thereby keeping quality of customer service high. If you get assigned a driver with a low rating, you can opt out and wait for the next closest car.
“I love Uber,” sophomore Kristina Ngo said. “The drivers are nicer, and they’re so much cheaper than taxis in Chicago.”
Uber does charge “surge rates,” meaning that the prices go up during high demand times like weekend nights, but students do appreciate the cost break that comes with the many coupon codes the service gives out. Codes offer as much as $20 off your first ride, and from there, it seems many riders are hooked on the sense of luxury that goes with pressing a button and being met by their own pseudo-chauffeur.
“I’ve used both [Uber and Lyft],” sophomore Marta Rybak said. “It’s easier to get to [than taxis], and the drivers are friendly, too.”
Drivers on Lyft and Uber merely register with the companies and use their own cars, picking up fares as they see fit during their hours. This means that rather than a full-time cabbie, your driver could be anyone from a schoolteacher to a graduate student to a legal clerk, all moonlighting with these apps for extra cash. Uber does, however, offer a higher luxury option with their black town cars for only 24 additional cents per minute.
Between the positive reviews and general popularity of the apps, it seems almost as if there’s no downside to hopping in a pink-moustached Lyft rather than a taxi or the CTA. But as critics have pointed out, safety may be a concern.
Taxi and limo companies have taken up arms against the new rideshare services, arguing that they should be subject to the same stringent regulations as taxis when it comes to safety inspections and insurance.
In the case of a potential accident, PEW research firm points out that insurance companies could refuse to cover claims for accidents that occur during a rideshare situation. This means if you get in an accident in an Uber or Lyft vehicle, it would be akin to getting into an accident with a driver who has no insurance.
The rideshare industry, however, is growing in spite of these concerns, and with growth comes new regulations. Several states, including Massachusetts, Maryland and Colorado have already begun implementing regulations that will allow them to stay in operation legally. This means that whether taxi companies like it or not, it looks as if rideshares are here to stay.