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Lyft is smoking Uber at CES

Lyft GlowstacheLyft

We’re in Las Vegas this week at the International Consumer Electronics Showcase (CES), where the biggest names in tech show off their new and upcoming products for the year.

Historically, Vegas has been a city dominated by taxis. But this year at CES, for the first time ever, Uber and Lyft are allowed to operate in the city. Lyft made its entrance first, back in the fall at McCarran Airport, and Uber launched around the same time.

Both Uber and Lyft have been falling over themselves this week, lowering fares and offering steep discounts to first-time riders to attract users. (Uber and Lyft, I’ve noticed this week, are both already way cheaper than a local taxi here.)

Normally when I’m in New York City, I open the Uber app and hail a car without much thought. But here, much to my surprise, it’s been much more convenient to use Lyft. And isn’t the whole selling point of a ride-hailing app its convenience factor?

There’s a weird thing about how these companies operate in Vegas: when you type in your destination, you receive specific instructions about where to go to have your car pick you up. For example, I tried leaving Mandalay Bay Convention Center in an Uber the other day, and it instructed me to go to a specific place outside of the hotel (taxis still get preferential pickup and dropoff locations at venues, and Uber and Lyft are forced to make alternate arrangements to pick up customers). In New York and other cities, this isn’t the case.

But even following those specific instructions, my Uber driver couldn’t find me, and it ultimately took 15 minutes of him driving around and me walking around for us to meet up. Later in the day it was raining, and my colleague Nathan and I tried hailing an Uber to pick us up at the Aria, but we ended up on a fruitless 15-minute goose chase in a downpour to meet up with the Uber driver. We ended up cancelling the ride when we couldn’t find him, and we took a cab back to the hotel.

Conversely, my experiences with Lyft here have been great — despite having to follow the same weird pickup instructions, my drivers haven’t had any problems finding me and vice versa. In the end, I wonder if this boils down to who has the most accurate mapping technology, or if it’s a matter of which company is better at these weird venue pickup workarounds they have been forced to adopt, or maybe I’m just really bad at hailing Uber cars (my rating, after all, is a meager 4.6).

Some other interesting nuggets I’ve gleaned from the cabbies and Uber and Lyft drivers I’ve talked to here:

  • The cab drivers really hate the ride-hailing drivers. (Surprise!) One tried to cut off my Lyft driver as we were leaving McCarran Airport on Monday night.
  • Despite this, cabbies aren’t hurting this week. I asked my cab driver last night if Uber and Lyft were cutting into his business. He seemed annoyed by their existence, but said this week was pretty much business as usual for him, at least at the CES venues.
  • Uber and Lyft drivers I’ve talked to here really seem to love driving for the companies. The drivers I’ve spoken to are ex-casino employees or former limo or taxi drivers who see Uber and Lyft as more flexible ways to make a living or earn some extra cash on the side.
  • At the same time, a couple of these drivers seem anxious and upset about the holiday/CES fare discounts, which they fear could extend indefinitely.

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