Uber Cuts Prices in January, Responding to Weather and, Perhaps, Competition
Uber made news recently by slashing prices for rides in some 100 cities in the United States and Canada. The five-year-old company said in a blog post that the move is “to boost demand during the winter slump”—and thus, help out its drivers.
It certainly comes as good news to those of us who just don’t leave our homes unless it’s crucial in the winter months. As Uber’s post states, “Yes, seasonality affects every business, and Uber is no exception because when people hunker down at home, demand for rides drops. Fewer trips are tough on drivers, many of whom want to save money and pay off their holiday credit card bills now that January is here.”
It’s certainly a generous-sounding approach—and Uber didn’t respond to our request for more specifics on how its rates stack up against competitors before we went to press—but one wonders to what extent competitors such as Lyft and Via (a Chicago- and New York-based app that specializes in ride-sharing) have made incursions into Uber’s bottom line.
A recent study suggested that Lyft users are more likely to open the app than those with Uber apps, reported Forbes (although at the time, Uber was on 6 percent of Android phones surveyed, whereas Lyft was only on about 1 percent). And depending on your city, as Lifehacker reported in fall 2014, Lyft was generally less expensive than Uber in San Francisco, New York, and L.A. (but not Chicago, where Uber was cheaper).
Uber wins, of course, in sheer numbers, with a presence in 67 countries and more than 300 cities worldwide compared to Lyft, which operates in about 200 cities. But being Goliath to Lyft’s David means that Uber gets the commensurate amount of press, and it’s not always good: This week witnessed ubiquitous anti-Uber news, from a New York City woman in labor an Uber driver reportedly left stranded on the sidewalk after she begged him to take her to the hospital (charging her $13 for the pleasure) to a California woman who claims an Uber driver broke her jaw during a scuffle.
As if on cue, this Wednesday Lyft announced that it’s partnering with the National MedTrans Network to provide New York seniors who don’t have smartphones a way to get to non-emergency appointments. The web-based program, an app-free way to get your mom or grandma to her medical appointment, is called Concierge. Lyft’s post explaining the move says, “Every year, around 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because they lack appropriate transportation to their appointments.”
Points to Lyft. Uber has written that it may revert prices in the cities (which it didn’t specify) where they’re currently offering discounts if they find that drivers are suffering more rather than less: “Last year… earnings fell in some cities and we changed back. In Charlotte, for example, we pulled a 40 percent price cut back to 29 percent, and earnings for drivers grew by nearly 20 percent in 2015.”
Meantime, it’s worth doing some side-by-side comparing of Lyft, Uber, and Via as you travel this winter—as long as it’s not snowing or pouring too hard where you are!