Austin ride-hail­ing op­tions put to the test

States­man re­porters went for test rides; here’s what they found.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Lilly Rock­well lrock­well@states­man.com

Usu­ally an out-of-town guest wants to know where to go in Austin for the best tacos or bar­be­cue.

But lately the No. 1 ques­tion from tourists is “Which ride-hail­ing app should I use?”

We un­der­stand their con­fu­sion. After ride-hail­ing jug­ger­nauts Uber and Lyft left town in May, a half-dozen ride-hail­ing star­tups flooded the Austin mar­ket.

Last sum­mer we tested seven of those ride-hail­ing apps, in­clud­ing the Yel­low Cab taxi app. But a lot has changed since then, in­clud­ing one com­pany leav­ing Austin, and oth­ers chang­ing their rate struc­tures.

So, just in time for the on­slaught of South by South­west visi­tors, 512tech con­ducted a se­cond test of six ride-hail­ing apps to help an­swer the “Which ride-hail­ing app should I use?” ques­tions.

Here’s how our very un­sci­en­tific test worked.

On Feb. 28, six Amer­i­can-States­man re­porters used six dif­fer­ent apps at the same time to hail rides from the States­man’s of­fices at 305 S. Congress Ave. to a lunch lo­ca­tion (Ker­bey Lane Cafe on South La­mar Boule­vard) and back.

We took notes. We snapped pic­tures. We ate Ker­bey queso.

A few quick take­aways from the test:

In terms of over­all ex­pe­ri­ence, it was hard to beat Wingz. The ap­point­ment-based ride-hail­ing ser­vice out­shined the com­pe­ti­tion. The driver wasn’t just on time, but early, al­low­ing Gary Dinges a shorter com­mute time to lunch. But it’s also the most ex­pen­sive ser­vice.

If you care about price, Fas­ten won with a to­tal fare that was at least $1 be­low the near­est com­pe­ti­tion, Ride Austin. But if you care about speed, zTrip, which con­nects a rider with a Yel­low Cab taxi, and the non­profit Ride Austin per­formed bet­ter.

Fare per­formed sig­nifi-

cantly worse than the other ride-hail­ing apps. That’s partly due to a bad user in­ter­face that forced re­porter Lori Hawkins to do ex­tra work to get her app to work while the rest of us had al­ready hailed our rides. Plus, she was ini­tially paired with a driver who couldn’t find the States­man — which might not be en­tirely Fare’s fault.

We weren’t able to test In­staryde be­cause that ser­vice abruptly left town in De­cem­ber, ac­cord­ing to 512tech re­porter Omar L. Gal­laga. He re­ported that some driv­ers com­plained that In­staryde owed them money and that it was un­clear which cities the ride-hail­ing ser­vice was still op­er­at­ing in.

Here’s a more in-depth look at how each of the ser­vices per­formed dur­ing our test:

FARE

Length of time it took for rides once they were hailed: 30 min­utes on the ride out; four min­utes on the way back. Trip time: 16 min­utes there, due to a mal­func­tion­ing stop­light at Bar­ton Springs Road that re­quired sev­eral ex­tra min­utes of wait­ing. Eleven min­utes on the way back. Cost of rides: $12.80 there and $11.55 back (plus $2 tip each way).

Driv­ers: My first at­tempt to hail a Fare ride didn’t go well. I texted the driver to say I was at the States­man vis­i­tor’s lot, but he went to Em­bassy Suites across the street (a com­mon oc­cur­rence due to GPS). I then called to ex­plain where I was, but we had a lot of trou­ble com­mu­ni­cat­ing, and he went the op­po­site di­rec­tion, to­ward Ce­sar Chavez Street. After about 10 min­utes of go­ing back and forth, and quite a bit of frus­tra­tion on both sides, we agreed it was best to can­cel the ride. I wasn’t charged.

My next driver, John, was great. He is a state worker and drives on his lunch hour, and on evenings and week­ends. My driver on the way back was Ti­mothy, who be­gan driv­ing for Fare a few months ago after sell­ing his in­surance busi­ness. “I’m driv­ing to pay for my golf and my loafing,” he said.

App ease of use (5 on a 10-point scale): Easy to in­stall, but I didn’t re­al­ize un­til it was time to hail a ride that I still needed to snap a photo of my­self, and put in my ad­dress and credit card in­for­ma­tion. The app’s in­ter­face ini­tially didn’t in­di­cate that I still needed to reg­is­ter. When I was fi­nally ready to hail a ride, the fea­ture that tells you how far away the driver was didn’t change, so I had no clue how close or far away he was.

On the at­tempt that I ended up can­cel­ing, it said the driver was six min­utes away the whole time, although I knew from talk­ing to him that he was driv­ing away from where I was.

Over­all ex­pe­ri­ence (6 on a 10-point scale): Both John and Ti­mothy were friendly, and I was very happy with both rides. John was pre­vi­ously an Uber driver, and cur­rently drives for sev­eral ride-hail­ing com­pa­nies. He is very knowl­edge­able about the apps, the roads and the ride-hail­ing busi­ness.

“I’m a na­tive of Austin, so I know the town, and I love to talk, so I en­joy do­ing this,” he said. — LORI HAWKINS

FAS­TEN

Length of time it took for rides to ar­rive once they were hailed: nine min­utes on the ride out; eight min­utes on the way back.

Trip time: 13 min­utes on the ride out; 12 min­utes on the ride back. Cost of rides: $9.54 there and $9.14 back (plus $2 tip each way).

Driv­ers: My driver on the way out said his name was Tony, but the re­ceipt said it was Mario. I sus­pect he gave me a dif­fer­ent name be­cause he was a lit­tle shaken that I was writ­ing about this ride for a States­man project. Mario said he had been driv­ing only for three days.

On the way back my driver was a Por­tuguese woman named Valdete. She had a heavy ac­cent, but I could un­der­stand her pretty well. She was friendly and talk­a­tive. App ease of use (8/10): I’ve used Fas­ten be­fore, and re­mem­bered the ini­tial setup was a breeze. Hail­ing a ride was easy, and the app un­der­stood my pickup lo­ca­tion cor­rectly.

The only frus­trat­ing part was how in­ac­cu­rate the pickup time es­ti­mates were. Both times I was given a five-minute es­ti­mate when it was closer to 10 min­utes. I’ve no­ticed this be­fore with Fas­ten’s app, and I sus­pect it has to do with not un­der­stand­ing the quirks of Austin’s traf­fic slow­downs. Over­all ex­pe­ri­ence (7/10): I ar­rived at my des­ti­na­tions in a rea­son­able pe­riod of time there and back, though I had to get on the phone with Mario to de­scribe how to get to the front en­trance of the States­man. (That’s mostly due to the States­man prop­erty’s con­fus­ing lay­out.)

I es­pe­cially en­joyed talk­ing with Valdete, who told me that Fas­ten is her pre­ferred ride-hail­ing ser­vice be­cause its tech­nol­ogy se­lects the ve­hi­cle that is ac­tu­ally clos­est to the pas­sen­ger. — LILLY ROCK­WELL

GET ME

Length of time it took for rides to ar­rive once they were hailed: 10 min­utes on the ride out; six min­utes on the ride back.

Trip time: 12 min­utes on the ride out; 11 min­utes on the ride back. Cost of rides: $11.98 there and $11.94 back (plus $3 tip each way). Driv­ers: Tom H. on the ride to Ker­bey Lane Cafe; Jack B. on the ride back. Both drove for mul­ti­ple ride-hail­ing

ser­vices to, as Tom put it, “get more hooks in the wa­ter.”

App ease of use (8/10): Get Me has im­proved its app from past it­er­a­tions. I al­ready had it loaded on my phone, but it was sim­ple and in­tu­itive to up­date my credit card in­for­ma­tion and set my pickup lo­ca­tion and des­ti­na­tion.

After hail­ing the ride, the app posts a mes­sage that says its “pulse bea­con tech­nol­ogy” is re­quest­ing a driver, but on the ride out this screen lin­gered a few min­utes — long enough for me to won­der whether it was ac­tu­ally hail­ing any­one. It then flipped over to the typ­i­cal map view with an es­ti­mated time of ar­rival. Over­all ex­pe­ri­ence (8/10): Both driv­ers were friendly and cour­te­ous with clean ve­hi­cles. Jack even men­tioned he sub­scribes to the States­man — in­stant five-star rat­ing!

The only glitch was the fairly long wait for the ini­tial ride from the States­man. Tom noted that, un­like the other ser­vices he used, Get Me pings driv­ers within a cer­tain area, so the rider might not al­ways get paired with the clos­est driver. But the wait was in no way un­rea­son­able, and I ar­rived shortly after my col­leagues. — DAN ZEHR

RIDE AUSTIN

Length of time it took for rides to ar­rive once they were hailed: seven min­utes first time, six min­utes on the ride back. Trip time: 13 min­utes out; 14 min­utes back. Cost of rides: $10.60 there and $10.94 back (plus $2 tip each way).

Driv­ers: Bethany there; Chad back. Bethany was me­dia-shy. When she learned I was tak­ing the car ride for a States­man re­port­ing project, she al­most (po­litely) ditched me in the States­man park­ing lot. Later, when I stopped tak­ing notes, she was cour­te­ous and talk­a­tive.

Chad was knowl­edge­able about the lo­cal ride-shar­ing land­scape and had no prob­lem dis­cussing his ex­pe­ri­ences. He’s a vet­eran Uber and Lyft driver who mi­grated to Fas­ten and Ride Austin after the gi­ant ser­vices left town. Now he drives ex­clu­sively for Ride Austin be­cause he likes the app and the fare poli­cies. App ease of use (8/10): Easy to in­stall. As a first­timer, it was a bit con­fus­ing to dis­cern which but­ton to push to hail a ride once the pickup and des­ti­na­tion lo­ca­tions were en­tered. It was sim­ple to con­tact the driver (in this case, Bethany) to al­ter the pickup des­ti­na­tion after I en­tered it in­cor­rectly ini­tially. Over­all ex­pe­ri­ence (8/10): Both ve­hi­cles were clean, and both driv­ers were prompt and be­haved pro­fes­sion­ally. Bethany was flus­tered by the in­ter­view re­quest, how­ever.

And the ride was half over be­fore she vol­un­teered to close the win­dows of her ve­hi­cle, all four of which were rolled down when she ar­rived. Seated in the back, it made for a windy trip. — BOB SECHLER

WINGZ

Length of time it took for rides to ar­rive once they were hailed: Wingz typ­i­cally re­quires rides to be booked at least an hour or two in ad­vance; I went ahead and booked my rides a day in ad­vance just to be safe. You’ll get an email as soon as a driver has been as­signed.

Trip time: 10 min­utes on the way there; 12 min­utes back. Cost of rides: $15 each way (plus $4 tip each way). One handy thing about us­ing the Wingz app is that you know in ad­vance ex­actly how much your trip will cost. Driv­ers: BJ was my driver both ways. He pri­mar­ily works for Wingz, but some­times picks up rides us­ing other apps. Says he has given more than 2,000 rides. He’s su­per­friendly, with a brand­new car. App ease of use (9/10): A quick reg­is­tra­tion process with a clean user in­ter­face. Hav­ing to book in ad­vance means Wingz is bet­ter suited for an air­port run or a sched­uled event such as a doc­tor’s ap­point­ment or con­cert, as op­posed to a spur-of-the-mo­ment trip to the Ware­house District to meet some friends on a Satur­day night. Over­all ex­pe­ri­ence (10/10): A guy could get used to this. Be­gin­ning to end, the process was flaw­less. The driver was very at­ten­tive, tex­ting his num­ber after he ac­cepted both my rides, just in case I needed to make any last-minute changes. He was on time (early, in fact) for both pick­ups. I had a great con­ver­sa­tion with BJ on my way to lunch and on the way back to the of­fice. In a city where traf­fic stinks and park­ing is scarce, a ser­vice like Wingz that lets you sit back and re­lax is price­less. — GARY DINGES ZTRIP (Yel­low Cab app) Length of time it took for rides to ar­rive once they were hailed: three min­utes for the out­bound trip, seven min­utes on the ride back. Trip time: About 10 min­utes there and back. Cost of rides: $11.70 there and $11.10 back (plus 20 per­cent tip each way). Driv­ers: Chris there; Pio back. App ease of use (7/10): Easy to in­stall and easy to hail a ride. How­ever, some func­tions, such as get­ting a copy of your re­ceipt via email or on the app, are buried. Ad­di­tion­ally, Chris asked me to sign a re­ceipt, but Pio didn’t. Over­all ex­pe­ri­ence (7/10): Chris was quiet, and the cab he was driv­ing felt old and a bit worn. Pio was chatty and drove a pris­tine Chrysler. Both knew their way around town. Prices seemed com­pa­ra­ble to Fas­ten and other ride-hail­ing firms.

TAMIR KALIFA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Just in time for South by South­west visi­tors, six Amer­i­can-States­man re­porters used dif­fer­ent apps at the same time to hail rides from 305 S. Congress Ave. to the same lunch lo­ca­tion and back. The ride­hail­ing apps and ser­vices were then rated.

NOLAN HICKS / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

For one zTrip Yel­low Cab ride, Pio was the driver. He was chatty and drove a pris­tine Chrysler. If you care about speed, zTrip and the non­profit Ride Austin might be good choices.

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