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All the ways Lyft and Uber are competing to be the friendlier app for drivers

While Uber repairs its image, Lyft is rolling out driver features in lockstep to maintain its promise to drivers.

A Lyft driver takes two passengers to their destination. Lyft

As Uber rolls into the home stretch of of its scandal-ridden year, the ride hail company has been working to repair its damaged relationship with drivers. One of the ways it is doing this is by rolling out a series of new features designed to improve their experience — and in some cases, their earnings — as Uber’s massive workforce.

Its rival Lyft, which has spent the better part of the year quietly taking advantage of Uber’s misfortunes, has followed suit, matching many of Uber’s newer features in lockstep.

One simple example: Over the past several months, both Uber and Lyft have launched 24/7 phone support for drivers, who may have issues with a passenger or payment.

Another, more complex: This past August, Uber increased the number of times that drivers can choose which locations they want to drive toward — while picking up rides along the way — to six per day, up from two. Lyft also made this change — which drivers can use to head toward home at the end of a shift, for example — but Uber has since rolled it back to two times per day. The company, which is looking for a better solution, saw that drivers in some markets were using the feature enough that there were fewer drivers along some routes, leading to longer wait times.

Lyft and Uber are racing to add driver-friendly features

Feature What it means When Lyft launched When Uber launched
Feature What it means When Lyft launched When Uber launched
Tipping Riders have the option to tip drivers at the end of the trip. 2012 Jun. 2017
Instant payout Drivers can cash out their earnings instantly. No minimum for Uber; $50 minimum for Lyft. Oct. 2015 Mar. 2016
24/7 phone support Drivers can reach a customer support agent at all times. Lyft also offers Spanish phone support. Sep. 2017 Jul. 2017
Paid wait time Uber drivers are paid for every minute they wait for a rider after a 2-minute grace period. For Lyft, it's after one minute. At least 2015 Jun. 2017
Cancellation fee after 2 minutes Uber riders are charged $5 if they cancel a ride more than 2 minutes after being assigned a driver. It's after 5 minutes on Lyft. - Jun. 2017
Optional driver injury protection Those who opt in pay 3.75 cents for every mile there is a passenger in the car. - Jun. 2017
Payment for returning lost items Drivers are paid for returning things that riders left in their car. - Jul. 2017
Driver-set destinations Drivers can choose the locations they want to drive toward — picking up passengers along the way — up to six times per day. Sep. 2017 Aug. 2017, rolled back to two in Sept. 2017
Long trip notifications Drivers will be notified if a trip will take longer than 45 minutes. - Aug. 2017
Bonus pickup fee on pool rides Drivers receive between 50 cents and $1 for each additional rider pickup on UberPool rides. However Lyft has a higher per-minute and per-mile fee on shared rides. - Sep. 2017
Suggested pickup points The apps will recommend locations that are more convenient for both riders and drivers. Jun. 2017 Jul. 2015
Driver operations centers Locations where drivers can speak to someone in person about any questions or concerns. Lyft has 18 Uber has 200 in the U.S.

It’s a significant shift for drivers, many of whom — despite the improvements on both platforms — continue to bemoan their low earnings. But for the first time, Uber and Lyft are competing for drivers by creating features that actually appeal in a real way.

Prior to this year, Uber and Lyft’s competition for drivers in part boiled down to a price war. As the companies grew across the U.S., many — including some professional drivers — flocked to the services for promises of a new and convenient source of income.

Part of that meant Uber and Lyft had to offer things like driver guarantees and other promotions to attract these drivers. They also aggressively competed on pricing to attract more riders. Remember, it’s a network business: More riders means more drivers, which is better for both parties.

However, now that Lyft has expanded across the U.S. and Uber has reached the massive scale that it has, finding new drivers has become difficult. As a result, driver retention — not acquisition — has become a real priority for the companies’ respective businesses. That’s become more true now that Uber took a hit to its market share following its series of unfortunate events of 2017 and the multiple #deleteUber campaigns that turned off thousands of riders.

Uber versus Lyft market share over time from Second Measure

Lyft has long held the title of the “driver friendly” ride-hail app in the U.S., thanks mostly to one major distinction for drivers: Tipping.

Over the years, Lyft rolled out features like an instant cash-out option for drivers called Express Pay, and Uber followed suit months later. But there was not one clear, sustained difference other than the option to tip drivers. (Uber’s former CEO Travis Kalanick was a steadfast opponent of adding a tipping option, for fear of adding friction to the rider experience.)

But now Uber has rolled out tipping, paid wait times, 24-hour customer service, and a bonus fee for each UberPool customer that a driver picks up. Lyft has matched many of these features. And it’s become harder to discern which company is truly the most “driver friendly.”

It really comes down to the question of trust: Do drivers believe that either Uber or Lyft actually care about them? Will they ever? And how will that affect driver retention over the long run?

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