clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Uber and Lyft are in a battle for user loyalty, and riders may win

Customers are shopping between the two ride-hail leaders and taking the car with the better price.

A man gets out of a ride hailing vehicle in Manhattan. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Ride-sharing customers are becoming less loyal.

Americans who used both Uber and Lyft in the last quarter of 2018 accounted for about a third of the companies’ ride-sharing revenue, according to new data from Earnest Research, which analyzes purchases from millions of anonymized US credit and debit cards. That’s up 13 percentage points from the beginning of 2016.

Uber-only riders still controlled a majority of that ride-share revenue last quarter — 51 percent — but that’s shrinking as a greater share of customers use Lyft, both together with Uber and on its own. Some 15 percent of revenue was from Lyft-only riders, up from 5 percent two years ago.

Overall, Uber grabbed 70 percent of the ride-share revenue in Q4 2018, compared with 30 percent for Lyft*, meaning Uber takes a bigger share of the revenue in the group that uses both.

The gap between market share overall and among people who use both services likely means that when people have both apps, they shop between them and take the car with the better price. That could lead to even more pressure on the ride-sharing giants to lower prices and offer promotions.

It’s also pushing the companies — both of which plan to hit the public markets at giant valuations this year — to differentiate themselves. As Recode’s Pivot co-host Scott Galloway has said, currently they don’t have much in the way of “moats” surrounding their businesses because they’re essentially offering the same services. That means it could be pretty simple for a competitor to come in and take market share by offering the same thing at a lower price.

Uber wants to expand its offerings to become the “Amazon of transportation,” by selling third-party goods and services like it does with Uber Eats. Both Uber and Lyft have expanded into other transportation markets, including scooters. And both Uber and Lyft are trying to lock in core customers by instituting loyalty and reward programs.

Uber’s bad behavior, including sexual harassment scandals and controversy surrounding Trump’s travel ban, caused some people to boycott the company in a #deleteUber campaign. The efforts hurt Uber’s market share and helped Lyft’s, as people considered Lyft to be the more socially conscious option.

Under its new leadership, however, Uber has recovered. And Lyft is now in some trouble of its own for trying to avoid paying its New York drivers a new, higher minimum wage, leading people to question whether Lyft is any better than Uber.

As competition for dominance intensifies, the battle to capture loyal users will be fought on both the price and perception fronts. And increasingly, this war will happen in the public eye. Only 3 percent of Americans had never heard of ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft in 2018, according to Pew Research. That’s down from 33 percent who hadn’t heard of ride sharing three years earlier.

About a third of Americans have used ride-hailing services, depending on which study you read, and that number has been rising rapidly.

When Uber and Lyft go public, they will have even more name recognition.

* Note that market-share data here does not include Uber’s and Lyft’s much smaller competitors like Gett, Juno, and Via.

This article originally appeared on