/// Competition Brings Lyft, Sidecar and Uber Closer to Cloning Each Other
Sometimes competition forces players to distinguish themselves. Other times, it brings them closer together. That seems to be ever more the case among mobile ride-hailing companies, the principals being Lyft, Uber and Sidecar. Much in common: the main live map screens for Lyft and Uber (to be fair, this is an older version of Uber). Yesterday, Lyft launched “Prime Time Tips” in Los Angeles, instituting a mandatory higher tip — up to 25 percent — during times of high demand. The point is to incentivize and reward drivers to increase supply. Riders will be warned about the dynamic price increase before the book. It sounds an awful lot, though not exactly, like Uber’s Surge Pricing scheme, which applies a multiplier to fares during peak times. Meanwhile, also yesterday, Sidecar told California users that it would be switching from “donations” to “payments,” following regulatory approval in September that established it was okay for people to drive their own cars for pay. Lyft told the Los Angeles Times it’s planning to do the same thing. You know who else takes payments? Uber. And also: The taxicabs these companies are trying to upstage. It won’t take long to recap the short history of ride-hailing, told with a bias toward San Francisco, where the three companies are based. In May 2012 , we wrote about the brand-new beta launch of a peer-to-peer ride sharing service in San Francisco called Lyft. In June 2012 , we wrote about the launch of Sidecar, a seemingly nearly identical service in the same city, where users hailed pre-screened strangers to drive them places via a smartphone app, and approved a suggested donation when they reached their destination. (The euphemism of a “donation” rather than a “payment” was meant to indicate this was a community service rather than full-on competition with cabs.) Then another month later, in July 2012 , the black car smartphone service Uber launched its own lower-cost competitor in Chicago, UberX. Uber doesn’t harp on the “community” angle as much, but UberX is basically the same service: non-professionalized drivers with their own cars offer rides at fares that compare well with taxis. It soon spread to other markets. (Uber continues to provide its premium services — sedans, SUVs, etc — with professional drivers, for a higher price.) And so, over the course of just a few months, San Franciscans went from a crappy cab system — with limited supply, many cars in bad repair, and a significant portion that required cash payments — to multiple low-cost alternatives. And these companies and their competitors expanded to other cities around the country.
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Competition Brings Lyft, Sidecar and Uber Closer to Cloning Each Other