The Uber, Lyft and taxi challenge: Who’s faster, cheaper, nicer, cleaner, easier?

SN&R writers become riders to see who gets you from point A to B the best

Uber showed up in an overheating Ford with faded black paint. Lyft wouldn't stop complaining about Uber. And the cabbie's debit-card reader was busted. So went SN&R's first ever taxi-Uber-Lyft challenge: It was like NASCAR meets Maury Povich meets the grandma who still writes checks at the grocery store.

Just after 5 p.m. last Thursday, Janelle Bitker and Raheem F. Hosseini and I each called up a ride. Raheem drew the taxi straw. Sure, we figured it would be longer to request a taxi than a rideshare on an app, but no head starts. Janelle took Lyft, I got Uber.

This little race began on the corner of I and 21st streets. We chose the location because it can be a confusing Midtown convergence for the novice grid navigator. And also because it's near where most of us live, and I'm lazy like that. Our destination was the corner of S and 17th streets, at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co., because we're not so remiss to put back a few cocktails after work.

Our goal was to not only find out which ride is the fastest, but also the cheapest, the cleanest, the most polite, the most GPS savvy, and the least awkward or dangerous or life-threatening.

Uber arrived first. It was 100 degrees outside, but the car's air conditioning remained off. A couple Febreze bottles were tucked away in the backseat, maybe because of the car's soft coolant aroma. The driver didn't know Hook & Ladder's location; the fastest route is via 19th Street, but she opted for the stop-and-go way down 20th.

Uber drivers often offer snacks like gum or Corn Nuts, and sometimes even chargers for your phone, but no dice today. She said she'd only been driving for a couple weeks, and that she doubles as a Lyft driver as well (Uber pays better “by a dollar or two” she said). She's new to Sacramento and said driving is “a good way to learn the streets”—right before nearly turning the wrong way on S. The door was locked, and I couldn't exit the car when we arrived at Hook. The ride took about nine minutes and cost $6.21. No tipping with Uber.

Lyft arrived second. Even though the app stated that there was a “driver 3 minutes away,” it took much longer than that, Janelle said. The Hyundai Sonata pulled up on the opposite side of the street, so Janelle had to cross the busy lanes to get to her ride.

The driver immediately apologized for taking so long, saying he took a wrong turn. Excuses! The car looked new and clean. He was a big guy in a T-shirt and shorts, a little odd, but talkative and friendly. He said he didn't like Uber because he felt like they weren't screening drivers, and the service was getting a bad name.

Lyft took 19th Street to Hook, the quickest route. The driver didn't immediately know where it was, but he knew the general direction and asked in the middle of the ride to make sure. He didn't use his GPS or mess with the phone during the ride. There were no snacks. A 12-minute journey cost $6, sans tip.

Raheem said he “really had to pee” when he was waiting, but, unfortunately, the cab took the longest. He was caller No. 3, and waiting “was like being stuck behind someone at the drive-thru and wondering how much of the menu they're ordering,” Raheem said. To be fair, there is a taxi app—but who knew?

The company's dispatchers will only send a car to a specific address, so this caused a delay. Finally, an automated voice called Raheem to say his car was there—but he'd already spotted it and jaywalked over to it to make up time.

Raheem said it was a quick, smooth ride. The air conditioner was piping nicely. The driver said the shift was “very, very slow,” and that he'll have to work longer than planned to hit his daily goal of $100. He's been driving for nine years and owns a sharp-looking yellow Toyota Prius.

A final hiccup was the card reader attached to the back of the passenger seat: The driver just installed a new one, but it refused to read Raheem's debit card. Twice. So he handed him $10 for a $7 fair. To inch him closer to that $100 mark. The ride took 19 minutes.

So, while Uber was the quickest by about three minutes, was it a winner? Did my driver, who clearly was not vetted by the company, even have a license or auto insurance? How would I even know?

Lyft was the cheapest, barely, and wasn't much slower than Uber. But ditto the above concerns.

All three of us embrace rideshare's convenience and tech proficiency, but there's something to be said for a taxi company's in-case-shit-happens safeguards.

Government may soon crack down on the rideshares, but let's not compromise the efficiency and affordability. That's a challenge worth taking.

—Nick Miller

Challenge results


Time: 9 minutes, 1 second

Price: $6.21

Intangibles: Crummy car, inexperienced driver, almost went wrong way

Verdict: Convenient and affordable, but unprofessional


Time: 12 minutes, 55 seconds

Price: $6 even

Intangibles: Cleanliness, friendly driver

Verdict: A nicer rideshare experience than Uber

Yellow Cab Taxi Co.

Time: 19 minutes, 15 seconds

Price: $7, plus $3 tip

Intangibles: Longer wait, payment technology not up to snuff

Verdict: Slower, pricier—but the most professional