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Originally published March 16, 2014 at 12:05 AM | Page modified March 19, 2014 at 10:42 AM

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Apps make using car-ride services easy

Here’s a comparison of phone apps that let you connect with passenger services. One thing is for sure: If you don’t use one of these apps for requesting rides, you’re missing out.


Seattle Times staff reporter

Glossary

For-hire drivers use licensed vehicles inspected by the city of Seattle. They are only allowed to respond to prearranged rides, not street hails. They acquire their licenses through King County after they pass written tests on personal conduct and local geography, are fingerprinted, pass a physical exam, pass an oral English-language test, get a city of Seattle business license and complete a two-day driver-training program. They undergo annual driving-record checks and criminal-background checks. Every three years they must pass a physical exam. They have to renew their license every year.

Taxi drivers use taxi-licensed vehicles that can respond to prearranged rides and street hails. They acquire the same for-hire driving license the way for-hire drivers do.

Transportation network companies are services that use a smartphone app to dispatch drivers who pick people up in their personal vehicles. The companies say they make their drivers go through their own safety training and background checks.

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Lyft, uberX and Sidecar and their phone apps may be the newest twist on providing car service, but they aren’t the only companies using these apps to connect with passengers.

An older ride-service app, Taxi Magic, has stepped up its game in the past year with more features. Yellow Cab and Orange Cab have released their own apps. Eastside for Hire has started working with Flywheel’s app.

I took a closer look at each app to note their differences on rides between The Seattle Times office in South Lake Union and the Central Co-op grocery on Capitol Hill.

I found out one thing for sure: If you don’t use one of these apps for requesting rides, you’re missing out.

Flywheel

Flywheel partners with the red-and-green Eastside for Hire cars and yellow-and-blue Flat Rate for Hire. When you book your request through the app, you can leave a note to the driver such as “I’m wearing a puffy, white coat.” You can track where your driver is on a dynamic map.

At the end of your ride, the app automatically charges you and adds a 20 percent tip if you haven’t changed the tip amount already. You also can rate your driver. There are supposed to be fewer than 200 of these for-hire cars in Seattle, but all of my recent pickups have been quick in Queen Anne, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill.

Cost of ride: $12

How fare is determined: Flywheel charges a $1 fee on top of the regular fare. Eastside for Hire sets a flat rate for the trip before you get in — make sure you ask what it is. The formula is determined by how many ZIP codes are driven through. The cost of a ride within one ZIP code usually averages $7, according to Eastside for Hire manager Samatar Guled. A trip from Greenwood’s 98103 ZIP code to South Lake Union 98109 is $9. Eastside also has an online fare calculator.

Ride-service type: Flywheel says it only works with for-hire drivers.

The car: The car passes city inspections and is required by law to have a security camera inside.

Payment options: Credit or debit card through the app.

Coverage area: No particular boundaries, but Eastside for Hire and Flat-rate for Hire generally cover the Seattle metro area, going to places like Shoreline and Woodinville up north, Des Moines and Kent in the south and Issaquah in the east.

uberX

Uber’s sleek ride-service app comes with features other apps don’t. When you download the app, you have three transportation options: uberX, UberBLACK and UberSUV. The last two are luxury, town-car type services.

UberX is a cheaper option where a driver picks you up in his personal car. The app asks for your pickup and drop-off locations and then gives you maximum and minimum fare before you confirm your request. Once you make the request, you’re assigned a driver, whose face and car type show up on your phone screen. You can track his car on a map.

As you wait, the app gives you various options . You can choose to split a fare with someone you’re riding with by choosing contacts already in your phone. You can also send a text to people waiting for you that includes a link tracking your car.

Cost of ride: $7.24

How fare is determined: All Uber cars are subject to surge-pricing, which depends on supply and demand. Uber spokeswoman Brooke Steger said that if the price is “surging,” the app tells you in a pop-up notification. If the price isn’t surging, the base fare is $2.14 and then $0.30 per minute or $1.63 per mile. The minimum fare is $5, and the cancellation fee is also $5.

Ride-service type: Transportation network company.

The car: Drivers use their personal cars, which the company says it inspects before allowing into its system.

Payment options: Credit or debit card through the app. No cash payment.

Coverage area: All of Seattle. Outside Seattle, its coverage area reaches Shoreline and Kenmore in the north, the western edge of Lake Sammamish on the Eastside, and SeaTac and Renton in the south.

Sidecar

When you request a ride, the app automatically identifies your location and then you type in your destination. The app then gives you a selection of nearby drivers to choose from with photos of their faces, their personal-car description, time of arrival and fare.

I selected a driver in a Toyota Prius who was supposedly three minutes away. The app immediately told me he was not available and automatically switched me to another driver who was 30 minutes away. I waited eight minutes and the driver was still 30 minutes away. I wanted to cancel the ride. The app told me that if I had requested my ride more than five minutes ago, I would be charged a $5 fee. I canceled anyway and clicked again on the first driver I’d wanted and the app did the same thing. I quickly canceled and selected another driver, who promptly accepted my request. A map allowed me to track his car.

Cost of ride: $7

How fare is determined: Drivers set their own rates for rides, and you choose which driver and rate you want before you confirm your ride request.

Ride-service type: Transportation network company.

The car: Drivers use their personal cars, on which the company says it runs an inspection before allowing into their system.

Payment options: Credit or debit card through the app. No cash payment.

Coverage area: Generally covers the Seattle metro area, including the Eastside.

Yellow Cab and Orange Cab apps

In the rush to create their own apps to compete with the likes of Lyft and uberX, Yellow Cab and Orange Cab released apps late last year that look and work in an identical fashion, most likely because they were created by the same company, DDS. The app identifies where you are and gives you the option of entering your destination. After you enter your request and the app tells you your ride is accepted, a map shows you where your ride is. It also tells you the car number that will be posted on the taxi’s exterior.

Cost of ride: $7.90

How fare is determined: By law, taxis in King County are allowed to charge at maximum a $2.50 meter drop, $2.70 per mile, $0.50 per minute of waiting time and $0.50 for each passenger over two passengers, excluding minors.

Ride-service type: Taxi

The car: One of the taxis licensed to operate in Seattle and throughout King County. Inspected by the city and required by law to have a security camera inside.

Payment options: The app does not have payment processing yet, so passengers can pay by credit or debit card or cash at the end of the ride. My driver had a smartphone with a card reader and app on it that allowed me to select a tip amount and have a receipt sent to me by text.

Coverage area: Throughout the Seattle metro area, including the Eastside.

Lyft

Lyft’s app is the only one that requires users to connect their Facebook account to the app. That provides both the customer and the driver a good look at each other. When you request a ride, you’re assigned the closest driver and you see a picture of his or her face, a picture of the car and a map that tracks how close it is.

At the end of the ride, you have the option of “donating” a recommended fare but can also choose to “donate” nothing to the driver. They’ll never know it was you because drivers are paid weekly.

When you decrease the payment amount from the recommended fare, a happy, animated balloon sinks and gets a sadder look on its face. You’re warned that riders who don’t pay the recommended fares may not get picked up as often in the future.

Cost of ride: $9 — or whatever I wanted.

How fare is determined: Lyft says its fares are “donations” to the driver, so you can pay whatever you want. But it recommends a certain fare based on time and distance that are about the same as a taxi’s.

Ride-service type: Transportation network company.

The car: Drivers use their personal cars, often with a furry, hot-pink mustache attached to the grille or placed on their dashboard. Lyft says it inspects the cars before allowing them into its system.

Payment options: Credit or debit card through the app. No cash payment.

Coverage area: All of Seattle. Outside Seattle, its drivers reach south to SeaTac and Renton, north to Shoreline and Bothell and as far east as some parts of Sammamish.

Taxi Magic

Taxi Magic has been around in Seattle since 2010 but has been dramatically updated. In addition to the driver map-tracking, the app estimates your fare, allows you to keep multiple credit cards on file, remembers addresses and lets you message the driver. The app also lets you to log on to your account online, where you can book rides.

Cost of ride: $9.60

How fare is determined: There is a $1.50 fee on top of the normal fare. By law, taxis in King County are allowed to charge at maximum a $2.50 meter drop, $2.70 per mile, $0.50 per minute of waiting time, and $0.50 for each passenger over two passengers, excluding minors.

Ride-service type: Taxi

The car: Taxi Magic partners with Orange Cab and Stita Taxi. Orange Cab is licensed to operate in Seattle and King County and are inspected by the city and county. They are required by law to have a security cameras inside.

Payment options: Credit or debit card through the app.

Coverage Area: Throughout the Seattle metro area.

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.



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