Instant Designated Driver: Lyft, Taxi Magic, Uber Hire-a-Car Apps

— by Caroline on Crack

Uber car app use by Caroline on Crack

During a night out with Neat Bar owner Aidan Demarest we managed to pack 11 people in one Uber SUV. This was taken from the third row.

Celebrating an alcoholiday like St. Patrick’s Day in Los Angeles requires a bit of planning ahead. Thanks to the nature of the sprawl and the limited subway system Angelenos have had to come up with other ways to get home safely and quickly after a night of drinking. Well I found something better than having to appoint a designated driver or program the number of a taxi cab into my phone: hire-a-car apps like Lyft, Taxi Magic and Uber.

They range in price from “cheaper than a taxi” to deluxe. And they’re all so easy to use, which is key for when summoning a car while you’re buzzed. (Just make sure you enter all your credit card info, etc. before you actually use the apps.) For each of these apps you just set your pickup location and, if you want to get a fare estimate, your drop-off point. Then you can track where your driver is while you wait for them. When they arrive, if they don’t see you, they’ll give you a call. Easy-peasy!

Also, to keep things on the up and up and ensure great service, all three allow you to rate/review your driver. Only Lyft lets the driver rate YOU since it’s a “donation”-based service. If you don’t pay the driver you’ll inevitably receive a bad rating and then no one will want to pick you up ever.

But here’s where these designated driver options differ:

Chauffeur Car App

Uber is the most expensive out of these three services but for your money you’re getting a professional private driver who is just picking up rides during his/her downtime. So the customer service is high caliber with them opening doors for you, offering you bottled water and just being nice in general. It’s pretty sweet. The vehicle itself is usually luxurious, clean and plush. You can even change the radio station if you want. The only thing I don’t like about the service, besides its price, is its surge pricing when fares are increased during peak hours like at 12am when the bars start to empty out. One night I paid $43 to get from Hollywood back to Mid-City, just for FOUR miles!

This past Thursday, Uber launched a cheaper option for its service: Uberx. Its base price is $4 as opposed to $8 for a towncar or $15 for an SUV. And you get a not-fancy hybrid or midrange four-door car. This service is still in beta in Los Angeles and only available on the Westside unfortunately. They SAY it’s cheaper than a taxi but when I estimated fare in Uberx and then Taxi Magic, the prices turned out to be about the same. But I’ll still use Uber if I feel like splurging or it’s for a special occasion.

Taxi Driver Car App

Taxi Magic has been my default DD since it IS cheaper than Uber. I’ve used it in Portland, San Diego and Waikiki. It’s better than just calling a taxi for those who, like me, don’t ever carry cash. When you actually call a cab you never know if you are going to get one who only takes cash. With the app you can just either pay the driver, including tip, via the special Taxi Magic credit card terminal in the cab or through the app itself. But you do get charged $1.50 for that convenience. Of course, you also still have the option to pay with fee-free cash.

If you want to schedule a taxi ahead of time, you can. I did that for a 6:30am pickup to go to the airport so that there would be one less thing I’d have to worry about the next day. I’ve only experienced a couple of inconveniences with this app. The first is that if you’re somewhere that doesn’t widely service Taxi Magic, you’ll have to actually call a cab, still through the app. Not a big deal. Sometimes I find that if I just walk a little ways from my pickup spot the option to book a cab on the app will be available. Second was the time I booked a taxi only to find that my taxi ended up picking up someone else. Through the app’s GPS I tracked my cab being driven away from my pickup location. I tried to notify Taxi Magic so that I wouldn’t get charged but the most I could do was email them about it. Fortunately, since the other fare presumably paid with their own credit card, I didn’t get charged for their trip.

FYI, for St. Patrick’s Day (from 6am on March 17 to 4am on March 18) the advanced booking option will be suspended.

“Friend With a Car” Car App

I have only just discovered Lyft, which launched in L.A. this January, and haven’t had a chance to use it yet but I like this whole “cheaper than a taxi” spiel. Apparently it’s basically a ride-sharing program that will find drivers in your area to take you where you want to go for a donation/reimbursement. The drivers aren’t professional cab drivers or chauffeurs and apparently anyone can sign up to be one, think AirbNb for hired drivers. However those who sign up will have to undergo a careful screening process which includes DMV and criminal background checks and an in-person meeting.  So you won’t ever have to worry about the whole “random creepy driver” factor with this service.

Unfortunately, the program is currently only available on the Westside (Santa Monica, Venice, West L.A.), but there are plans to expand to West Hollywood, Downtown L.A. and Silver Lake.