What Is Lyft and How Do You Use It?

A ride-sharing option that isn't Uber

Lyft is a ride-sharing service that launched in 2012 as an alternative to traditional taxi services and in direct competition with Uber. Rather than hailing a cab or calling a car service, people use a smartphone app to request a ride. The passenger is matched up with a nearby driver and receives an alert when the driver arrives.

With ride-sharing services, drivers use their personal vehicles rather than a company-issued one, and payment is made through an app. Lyft is available in hundreds of cities in North America. To request a ride, you must be at least 18 years of age. To become a Lyft driver, you must be at least 21. 

NYC First Major City To Attempt To Cap Number Of Ride-Hailing Services
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Getting Started With Lyft

To use Lyft, you need a smartphone with a cellular plan and the Lyft app. You'll need to enable location services so that the app can match you up with drivers in your area. Lyft doesn't work with Wi-Fi-only devices.

There are Lyft apps for iPhone and Android. Lyft's platform works with all the major cell carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon), as well as most prepaid operators including Cricket Wireless and Virgin Wireless.

Download For:

  1. Before your first ride, set up an account and add payment information. You can create a login or sign in with Facebook.

    Lyft accepts major credit cards, debit cards tied to checking accounts, and prepaid cards, as well as PayPal, Apple Pay, and Android Pay.

  2. Provide a profile image, your email address (for ride receipts), and your phone number.

    Drivers see your first name and your profile image so they can identify you. Likewise, you'll see the same information about them.

  3. Optionally, add more detail to your profile: your hometown, favorite music, and information about yourself. Your driver can use this information to break the ice, so add it only if you'd like to chat.

  4. Once you've added the required information, Lyft texts a code to your smartphone to verify your identity. Then you're ready to go.

A person in the city holding cellphone
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How Does Lyft Work?

Getting a Lyft is easy. Open the Lyft app and choose your ride type. There will be up to five options, depending on where you live. Each tier has a different base rate, which varies by city. The other options are:

  • Lyft Plus: Seats up to six people.
  • Lyft Line: Saves you money by sharing a ride with one or more persons going the same way.
  • Lyft Premier: A high-end car.
  • Lyft Lux: An ultra-high-end black car with a top-rated driver.
  • Lyft Lux SUV: An ultra-high-end black SUV that seats up to six.
  • Lyft Shuttle: A fixed-fare commuter service available only during rush hour.

Lyft Premier, Lux, and Lux SUV are not available in all cities. Go to the Lyft cities page and choose your city, for example, New Orleans, to see what's available. Lyft Shuttle is available only in limited cities during the morning and afternoon rush hour. It's like Lyft Line, except it doesn't pick riders up at their address, but instead at a nearby designated pickup spot, and it drops them off at another designated stop. It's like a bus service, but on demand.

How to Request a Lyft Ride

To order a Shuttle ride, select Lyft Line, where you'll see two options: door-to-door and Shuttle. The app gives you walking directions to the pickup stop and the departure time.

If you want to order any type of Lyft except for Shuttle, follow these instructions:

  1. Open the Lyft app, then choose your ride type from the options listed.

  2. After you select the type of car you'd like, choose Set pickup. Confirm your location by dropping a pin on the map or entering a street address or business name.

  3. Select Set destination and add the address. You can also choose to wait until you get in the car to tell your driver by tapping Skip, unless you're taking a Lyft Line ride.

    To order a Lyft Line ride, enter a destination so Lyft can match you with other passengers traveling in the same direction.

    In some cities, you can see the price of your ride after entering the destination.

  4. When you're ready, choose Request Lyft. You can also add multiple stops if you need to pick up or drop off another passenger.

  5. The app searches for nearby drivers and matches you with one. You can see on a map where your driver is and how many minutes away they are. The app tells you the make and model of the car as well as the license plate number, so you don't have to worry about getting in the wrong one.

  6. Enjoy the ride! Lyft drivers get turn-by-turn directions through the app, so you don't have to navigate for them or worry about getting lost.

    It's a good idea to confirm your destination with the driver to avoid confusion.

  7. When you arrive at your destination, the Lyft app displays the total amount of the fare. You can add a tip, rate the driver on a scale of 1 to 5, as well as optionally leave written feedback.

    Drivers also rate passengers; it's a requirement. Passengers can request their rating by contacting Lyft.

  8. Lyft emails you a receipt for each completed ride.

Lyft Rates

In many cases, you can see an estimate of your fare before requesting a Lyft, but factors such as traffic can affect the total. Lyft calculates its fares by distance and time (minutes traveled) and adds a base fare and service fee.

Different ride types have different base fares. For example, Lyft Premier has a higher base fare than Lyft Line. You can view the base fares for your location on Lyft's Cities page. During busy periods, Lyft adds a Prime Time fee, which is a percentage of the ride total.

From the Cities page, you can also get a cost estimate, by entering your pickup and destination addresses. Lyft shows you a list of options (such as Lyft Line, Plus, and Premier) and prices in ascending order.

Uber, which is available around the world, is Lyft's significant competitor and offers similar services. The burning question for riders is: is Lyft or Uber cheaper? The answer is complicated and depends on many factors, including the location and time of day. Uber has an online tool where you can request an estimate; note that the fare types are not in order of price. 

Lyft Special Services

In most cases, you need a smartphone to order a Lyft, but Lyft partnered with GreatCall to enable its subscribers to access the ride-sharing service from their Jitterbug phones. GreatCall is a prepaid phone service for seniors that sells mostly basic Jitterbug phones, most of which do not support mobile apps.

GreatCall Rides website.

Included in the service is a live operator who can assist subscribers in a variety of ways, including in emergencies. Through the GreatCall Rides program, subscribers ask their live operator to request a Lyft. GreatCall adds the fare (tip included) to their monthly GreatCall bill.

GreatCall Rides is available only in a few states, including California and Florida, and a couple of cities, including Chicago. To find out if it's available where you live, check your zip code on the GreatCall website or dial 0 and ask the operator.

Lyft also partnered with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) paratransit service to provide on-demand rides for disabled passengers. Trips for members of the paratransit service cost as little as $2 and can be requested via the Lyft app or by phone.

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