Understanding Lyft Rates and How to Estimate the Cost of Rides
Rideshare users have turned to Lyft in huge numbers over the last decade, beckoned by the ease of on-demand booking and simple, automatic payment through their smartphones. What’s unclear is how many people actually understand what they’re being charged for, or how Lyft, and competitors like Uber, set their rates.
In this article, we’ll dive into the world of Lyft and its pricing model — showing average rates and breaking down, in detail, the cost of every Lyft ride. We’ll also take a look at surge pricing, give you some websites that help estimate fares, and answer some FAQs.
A Brief Guide to Lyft
Lyft is a ride-hailing app that allows users to book car rides, get real-time updates on the status of their pickup, then pay securely through their smartphone. Lyft passengers can book regular cars, luxury cars, and SUVs, and the company is now branching out into scooters and bikeshares. Basically, if you need to get around, odds are Lyft can help you out.
The company was founded in 2012 and is now headquartered in San Francisco. Its meteoric rise made it one of the major success stories of the latest dot com boom. Lyft was a private company for seven years, until March of 2019, when it went public with an initial public offering (IPO). It became the first ride-sharing company to go public, doing so ahead of its longtime competitor, Uber.
Lyft hasn’t been without controversy. Places like Austin and New York City have fought back against some of these ridesharing services, arguing that Lyft drivers and Uber drivers have an unfair competitive advantage over taxi drivers. (Read more in our breakdown of ridesharing services vs. taxis.)
A Guide to Lyft Rates
To understand the ride cost of a Lyft, it’s important to understand a few key metrics used to determine the cost of a ride. These can all be augmented by different ride types — Lyft, Lyft Plus, and Lyft Lux — and depend on the city you’re in.
The “initial cost” is Lyft’s base fee, and varies both by location and ride type. The average cost for the standard Lyft base fee, according to EstimateFares.com’s look at 350 metropolitan areas, is $0.90 per ride. For Lyft Lux, the company’s black car offering, the average base fee is $3.50 per ride.
The service fee is a standard $1.90 surcharge per ride for all Lyft rides, no matter what type of car you book or where you’re located. This is Lyft’s operational charge and goes directly to the company.
Fee Per Mile
Lyft’s main basis for calculating the cost of a ride is their mileage fee. This is done by taking the preferred route to a destination and applying the charge for the distance the car will travel. EstimateFares.com says the average fee per mile is $0.90 for a standard Lyft ride and $2.05 for a Lyft Lux ride.
Fee Per Minute
Lyft also adds on small fees for the estimated time a trip will take. This lets drivers be compensated for time spent sitting in traffic. Unlike taxis, the minutes are estimated before a trip is taken, so you won’t be punished if a driver takes a wrong turn. EstimateFares.com lists the average fee per minute at $0.09 for a standard Lyft and $0.30 for a Lyft Lux.
If you’re taking an extremely short ride, Lyft reserves the right to set a base fare that you can’t go under. Say you’re taking a 0.3 mile ride that will take 4 minutes — it will be tough for Lyft to get a driver to go out of their way to pick you up for the promise of a dollar. Thus, they have a minimum fare, an absolute lowest price for a ride, no matter how short a distance you go. For standard Lyfts, the average minimum fare cost is $3.50, while it’s $10 for a Lyft Lux.
The only other fee to know about is a cancellation fee, which is applied if you cancel a ride once you’ve booked but before you’ve gotten in the car. Lyft has a set $5 cancellation fee for any late cancels.
Understanding Surge Pricing
Anyone who has tried to book a Lyft after a major sporting event, or at the airport during the holidays, has probably encountered the dreaded concept of surge pricing. This rise in cost, sometimes by two, three, or even four times the normal price, is how Lyft and other ridesharing services deal with situations where their supply of rides cannot meet the demand of riders.
This can happen at busy times like the situations listed above, but it can also happen during times when there just aren’t a lot of drivers on the road. Some rideshare riders have been surprised to find surge pricing happen when booking a 4 a.m. ride to the airport, for example. That rise in cost isn’t due to too many riders, but rather to the fact that there are hardly any drivers on the road.
Surge pricing works as an incentive in two ways. One: It encourages more drivers to get on the road to make more money. And two: It incentivizes riders to only book if they are certain they need a ride. (Plus, it can make the company a lot more money.)
Surge pricing can drastically change Lyft rates, and being able to guess if they’ll apply can help you get the best rates on a ride.
Sites to Help You Estimate Lyft Fares
While every Lyft ride will automatically lock in your fare before you complete booking, you can get a fare estimate ahead of time with several websites. For business travelers who are trying to estimate what a trip will cost, or people trying to price out which is a cheaper trip to the airport, these sites allow you to estimate Lyft prices before you open the Lyft app.
The Lyft Fare Estimator
The Lyft website itself has a fare estimator, which allows you to enter your starting address and destination, then get an instant price estimate. If you’re logged in, you can book or schedule ahead of time as well.
EstimateFares.com has given price estimates for over 4 million rides, and like the Lyft site, allows you to enter a starting address and destination, and get a quick estimate for what the ride will cost.
EstimateFares.com also allows you to look at the general pricing for Lyft in different cities, so if you’re traveling, you can get a sense of how prices compare to where you live. Their city guide lets you see updated fares for coverage areas around the country.
RideGuru lets you estimate fares not only for Lyft, but for other car services, including Uber, Curb, and even taxis. You enter a starting address and a destination, and they do the rest. The interface is clean and allows you to set filters for shared rides or services that allow you to book ahead of time. Plus they have a feature that simulates surge pricing.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve broken down Lyft, how their rates work, and some sites that help you estimate the fares for taking a Lyft. Now let’s get to some FAQs.
1. Which is cheaper, Uber or Lyft?
Uber and Lyft have competed for so long and so closely that it’s hard to differentiate much between the pricing models. Lyft has a “service fee,” Uber has a “booking fee,” but they’re comparable. Base rates for UberX and standard Lyfts are both around a dollar. Usually the difference in pricing will come down to supply and demand, and who has more drivers on the road.
Many users like to have both apps in case one of the two is employing surge pricing — a quick check of the other app could save you serious cash.
2. Is Lyft cheaper than a taxi?
We previously looked at the cost of Ubers vs. taxis, and the breakdown came out pretty close as well. Taxis tend to be cheaper for very short trips, as they don’t employ minimum fares, while you tend to get more value from Uber and Lyft on longer trips. All this goes out the window with surge pricing, during which time it’s much cheaper to take a taxi (if you can find one).
3. Is there any way to predict surge pricing?
Sure. Knowing prime time for traffic in your area can give you an idea of whether or not surge pricing will be in effect. Likewise, major weather events can often cause surge pricing to go into effect, as more people need rides to avoid getting rained or snowed on, and it’s harder for drivers to get out on the roads.
Knowing your city can help as well. Is there a major convention in town? A huge sporting event? You should expect surge pricing during times when there’s an influx of people.
4. How much of Lyft pay goes to the drivers?
Driver pay is calculated for every ride. According to Ridester, Lyft takes 20% of the fare, plus the entire service fee. This is slightly better for drivers than Uber, which takes 25% of the fare, plus the booking fee. All tips go to the drivers.
Rideshare drivers are typically labeled independent contractors, which depending on where they are in the United States, has differing laws on guaranteed payment. Some states guarantee that drivers receive minimum wage no matter how many trips they take.
As for how much a full-time Lyft driver can make, it varies wildly by market, but Ridester estimates that working 40 hours a week with consistent rides can give a driver a $40,000 annual salary.
Understanding Lyft Rates
Lyft riders looking to save can do so by understanding the company’s rates, how those rates work, and if and when rates are going to go up due to surge pricing. With the resources listed above, you should be able to price out Lyft rates, shop around for other ridesharing or taxi services, and ride smartly — and economically.
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