Austin ride-hailing options put to the test
Statesman reporters went for test rides; here’s what they found.
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:
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.