Taxi Hailing Apps 101: How they Work, How Much they Cost & More

by  Darren Murph | Sep 27, 2013
Taxis in NYC
Taxis in NYC / deberarr/iStock

The iconic yellow cab is known in practically every culture as a symbol of on-demand transportation, catering to both disoriented tourists and rushed locals alike. But in the digital age, the way we call for and utilize on-demand transport is changing. E-hail apps, as they're known, harness the power of GPS in order to bring a ride directly to you, thus significantly changing the taxi game. Legislators are still ironing out the kinks in many cities, though both San Francisco and New York have already embraced the cab hailing tech revolution.

Here's a look at the biggest players, what they offer, and how much they charge for their services.

Uber (available for iPhone and Android)

Arguably the father of the modern e-hail experience, this San Francisco-based startup has expanded its footprint to cities all over the globe. It's far and away the most advanced and recognized, offering the ability to use one's phone to call for an on-demand driver in a staggering 19 countries. (The list of active cities has grown tremendously, but Uber offers a great "Find Your City" portal here.) Uber offers the largest variety of rides: a typical yellow cab, a modern small car (usually a Prius), a standard town car, or a full-size SUV. In each case, you'll find top-notch service, with drivers trained to ask your preferred temperature, radio station, etc. The cars are all cleaned and freshened in advance, and best of all, you don't have to pay using cash or an in-car credit card machine: all Uber rides are billed to your payment method on file within the app, with the receipt emailed to you as soon as you depart. The base fare usually starts at around $5, adding between $2 - $3 per mile with a $10 minimum per ride. Rates can double during "surge" periods of high demand – a fact that is clearly noted in the app – so be careful about logging on during rush hour.

Lyft (available for iPhone and Android)

The primary difference between Lyft and Uber is that Lyft employs everyday people that simply want to share rides and meet new folks in their area. It's less digital cab service, and more organized carpooling service. The company describes it as "peer-to-peer transportation," and because the network isn't as fleshed-out as Uber's network, you'll likely need to be a bit more patient before catching a ride. Lyft currently operates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe, though additional cities are planned. Naturally, rates vary by city, but a Lyft ride usually runs you around 30 percent less than a similar-length taxi ride. The upside to using Lyft, beyond the savings, is the ability to meet like-minded people; you're encouraged to sit up front and converse. Need a good conversation starter? How about the pink fuzzy mustache installed in every Lyft vehicle's grill?

Hailo (available for iPhone and Android)

While Uber is heavy on the options, and Lyft entices those looking to make new friends, Hailo sticks (mostly) to the basics. Basically, this is an app that allows software to take the place of your ever-waving arm on a sidewalk. It's designed to hail conventional yellow cabs, and in turn, pricing is far more reasonable than Uber or Lyft. There's a $4.25 base fare, while per mile rates are roughly what you'd see on a typical cab. Hailo is only operational in New York City, London, Dublin, Madrid, Barcelona, Toronto, Chicago, and Boston, but it has insinuated it will expand into more cities soon. Much like Uber, payments are billed directly to your stored credit card within the app; in a nutshell, this is the cheapest way to hail a conventional cab without worrying over in-cab payment.

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