Need a Lyft? Uber Says, “No!”

One night last fall, my friend Sarah and I walked around downtown Atlanta after a music festival, completely lost. I was desperately seeking walking directions from Google Maps as my phone was dying. After two “low battery” alerts, I gave up and looked around everywhere for a taxi. To my relief, a large yellow van finally rescued us. We rode through a congested mess of Atlanta streets. “I’m so glad I am finally going back to my room,” I told the driver as I pulled out my wallet and handed him my debit card. “No,” he said. “I don’t take cards.”

The nearest ATM was miles away, and the taxi ticker already racked up twenty dollars. I wish I knew that I had an alternative. I could have averted my crisis by finding a reliable rideshare service with easy online payment such as Uber. Although the idea of accepting a ride from a stranger seems scary, I realized I’d prefer any option to a taxi driver who demanded cash. Sunil Paul, CEO of Sidecar, said, “The sharing economy has changed the definition of a stranger.”

Uber, now operating in 60 cities and 22 countries, has capitalized on this concept. The company changed its slogan “Everyone’s private driver” to “Where lifestyle meets logistics,” heralding their plans to expand their presence beyond the ridesharing industry. Uber aims to create a “digital mesh” of services much like the former book-lender, Amazon: Uber has already delivered everything from ice cream to DeLorean rides. Word-of-mouth drives Uber’s advertising as 1-in-7 Uber trips leads to a new user. Some reports suggest that Uber is implementing more aggressive tactics to sell their brand.

Although Uber may be a leading name in the sharing economy, they certainly do not want to share market with their pink-moustached competition, Lyft. Since Uber’s launch, Uber has been recruiting riders by marketing itself as an affordable joyride. According to Lyft’s reports to CNN, Operation SLOG– Uber’s rumored scheme to squash their competition– cancelled 5,560 rides from Lyft since October 2013. Under SLOG, Uber’s “brand ambassadors” sneak aboard Lyft rides and offer a sizable bonus to drivers who agree to work for Uber.

In response, Lyft ambassadors recruited some of Uber’s drivers.They reportedly matched Operation SLOG ambassadors’ phone numbers to Lyft request forms. Not surprisingly, Uber executives assert that they are not trying to sabotage Lyft’s business. They claim that any mishap occurred randomly, not as part of a company-wide scheme: “We never use marketing tactics that prevent a driver from making their living — and that includes never intentionally canceling rides.” However, Uber’s attempts to hide this behavior belies impure intention. “Shave the Stache” campaigns online aren’t helping their case, either.

I’ll still be looking for the Uber decal or fuzzy pink moustache next time I order a ride. The high-stakes race between Uber and Lyft proves that ridesharing is a thriving market that demands competitive pricing. I hope their skirmish results in lower travel costs for all who choose to ride with strangers. If not, at least it’s always entertaining to hear about some healthy competition.

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