How To Use Ride-Share Apps in San Francisco
When it comes to hailing a cab, you might notice that people in San Francisco do things a little bit differently. The city has several traditional cab companies you can use to hail rides the old fashioned way, but we’re also home to ride-sharing services like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar that allow you to summon a car to your location using an app on your smartphone.
Uber is one of the larger ride-sharing companies. The company can send you everything from a regular taxi to a luxury town car. Tips are included in each ride and rides are automatically charged to your credit card so you don’t have to worry about carrying around cash or swiping your card when it’s time to get out. When you launch the Uber app, you select the type of vehicle you need from the bottom of the screen. Once selected, you’ll see an estimated ETA for a car on a map on the screen. Double check that the Pickup Location at the top of the screen is where you are, then tap that ETA to request the car and it will be on its way. The app will let you know the name of your driver, the type of car he’s driving, and the car’s license plate. Be on the lookout for it to arrive at your location soon. Not sure what type of vehicle to request? Here’s a rundown of the options:
- UberPool: This is a service that pairs you with another rider headed the same way and allows you split the cost of your ride, saving you both some cash. Cars are driven by locals and are typically their personal vehicle. Expect something like a Honda Civic or Prius. Each person is only allowed to bring one other rider with them. Be advised: If you both bring a guest, things can get tight, especially in smaller vehicles or if you or the other rider have shopping bags.
- Uber X: Uber X are the same personal cars driven by locals that are used with UberPool; however, they are vehicles you’re getting all to yourself. Uber X vehicles can typically handle four riders. An Uber XL option can take up to six riders if you’re traveling with a larger group or with a lot of luggage.
- Taxi: Sends a traditional taxi to your door.
- Black Car: If you’re entertaining a business client, then Uber Black can be a great choice. A little more expensive than Uber X, the service sends a town car to your doorstep. There’s also an SUV option if you’re traveling with a large group.
Watch out for Surge pricing: Uber increases its price based on the demand and number of cars on the road. If you see a lightening bolt icon paired with a vehicle type, it’s currently more expensive than normal. Uber will let you know what the increase is before you book. Make sure you pay attention, or you could potentially get charged a lot more than you expect.
Lyft is a car service similar to Uber, except that it relies almost entirely on individuals driving their own vehicles and doesn’t offer a black car service. Like Uber, you pay for your ride automatically using a saved credit card, so there’s no need to bring cash or swipe a card in the vehicle. Lyft prices include a small tip for drivers, but riders are encouraged to add an additional tip at the end of the ride when they feel they’ve had a good experience — you’ll be prompted to do that within the app once you’ve arrived at your destination. Originally identified by their pink mustache logo and branding, starting in December 2016 you can now identify Lyft cars by the Amp lighted device on the dashboard, colorcoordinated with each user's application on their smartphone. You have a few different Lyft options to choose from:
- Lyft Line: Lyft Line is a carpooling option that potentially pairs you with another rider, allowing you to split the total cost of the ride. When you request a Line you have to indicate how many people are riding with you. You can bring along a maximum of one other rider.
- Lyft: A traditional Lyft is comparable to Uber’s Uber X option. Vehicles are typically owned by individuals driving their own cars, and are the same vehicles that are used for Lyft’s Line service. Each car is capable of carrying up to four people.
- Plus: Plus is a slightly more expensive version of Lyft, and includes only larger vehicles capable of carrying six people.
Watch out for Prime Time: Prime Time is comparable to Uber’s Surge Pricing and charges you more during times of high demand. Prime Time is indicated by a small arrow icon beside the vehicle type in the app.
Sidecar is similar to Lyft and Uber in that you request and pay for a vehicle from within the app. Unlike those services, Sidecar requires you to enter your destination before you request a car. The app then displays a number of driver and vehicle choices for you to pick from, including some options where there might already be someone riding, so you can join the ride and save some cash. It also gives you an estimated total for your entire ride beside each car before you book.
When you request a ride, the driver you selected will be notified and can decide whether they want to pick you up. If they accept, then they’ll be on their way to you. If they decline, Sidecar will suggest another driver who can take you.
If you’d rather take a regular taxi, then Flywheel can be a great solution. The app works with local taxis and allows you to hail a traditional cab to your location. Like the other options, you can track the car’s location and pinpoint its arrival time. You can also pay for your ride within the app.
Unlike some of the other options, there isn’t any additional charge to use Flywheel during high-traffic times.
YellowCab SF is the official app for San Francisco’s Yellow Cab company. Much like the other apps, it allows you to hail a cab to your current location. You pay the driver just as you would if you had hailed the cab with an outstretched arm, so you’ll need to have cash or a credit card with you to pay and tip your driver.
With the app you can also book future trips. So if you know you’ll need a cab to head to the airport early in the morning, you can go ahead and fill out a request form the night before.
Emily Price is a travel and technology reporter based in San Francisco’s Mission District. She’s always on the hunt for the best new apps, gadgets and triple IPAs.
Photo via Creative Commons.