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Ride-share Services Transforming How We Get Around in Cities Large and Small

Ride-share services Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are growing in popularity in both large and small cities.

By Phil Newman on March 25, 2014

Lyft in San Francisco, CA
Photo by Lyft

When Nashville nonprofit executive Peter Oldham visits his grown children in downtown San Francisco and travels on business to cities like Chicago, he likes to open an app on his mobile phone and reserve a car with ride-share service Uber. Now, users of ride-sharing services are finding they can pop open the app outside of the skylined shadows of our largest cities.

“I love it,” Oldham says. “The cars are always well maintained, drivers always friendly and courteous. Being able to track how close they are to arriving, then just getting out without finding cash or having to calculate a tip is great. I usually get the email bill within moments, too. Very convenient.”

Uber, along with similar ride-share services Lyft and Sidecar, are still in their nascent stages but are growing rapidly, marketing aggressively across demographics, and generating buzz in cities throughout the U.S. and the world.

Uber is the largest and most established, having begun in 2009 and grown into 36 U.S. cities and 27 nations – but Lyft (20 cities) and Sidecar (eight) are expanding and winning over customers as well.

All three have cut their teeth in large, densely populated destinations but are also establishing a presence in less-urban, more sprawling locales. For example, Uber operates in Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, Calif., along with the Hamptons. Lyft cars – with their purposely bright, pink mustaches on the grill – offer rides in places as diverse as Orange County, Calif., and Charlotte, N.C. And the coverage area in most metro areas extends from downtown grids to smaller suburbs and satellite towns.

Among the growing number of happy ride-share passengers is Christian Reed, a recent college graduate who uses Uber while hanging out with friends in Nashville.

“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a ‘cab’ ride,” Reed says. “I’ll never use any other service downtown. I’m a lifelong fan.”

Ride-share services differ from traditional taxicabs in several ways. For one, ride share scratch an itch for convenience, thanks to apps that allow passengers to reserve a car and pay online. The drivers are part-timers in their own vehicles who typically know their areas well and are happy to ferry both local and out-of-town riders.

“I choose Uber over cabs because of comfort, cleanliness and ease of calling and paying,” Oldham says.

Safety is a factor for single 20-something Claire Parks. “I love Lyft!” she says. “I like how the cars are clean, and the drivers are always so personable. I definitely feel safer in a Lyft car than a regular cab. I also like how all of the payments are through the app. I don’t have to worry about having cash or someone stealing my credit-card information. My friends and I use it almost every weekend, and I would recommend it to anyone.”

Ride-share services see part of their role as helping to reduce traffic congestion in busy areas. “Services like Sidecar will one day make car ownership optional because you’ll be able to get rides from your mobile phone, in addition to using other services like the subway, bikes and walking,” says Margaret Ryan, a spokesperson for San Francisco-based Sidecar.

The services do have their limits, and customers don’t see them eliminating personal vehicles or rental cars. Ride-share’s “availability probably wouldn’t impact my decision to rent or drive as much as my plans and needs for a vehicle during my stay would,” Oldham says. “If I’m going to be touring and sightseeing, I prefer to drive myself so I would rent.”

Reed adds, “I don’t think this will reduce personal cars because of the need to visit family and friends” who live outside ride-share range.

Even so, the availability and scope of ride-share services continues to widen – and their presence is likely to keep shaping the mobility landscape for years to come.

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