Plus: Is BlaBlaCar a "true" ride-sharing service?

In the last seven years, Uber and others of its breed have not only ushered in new and innovative modes of transportation, but new terminology for how we get around: no longer do we hail a taxi and call a car, we ride-share and ride-hail.

As we use these terms more and more frequently—and as apps and startups pop up to fill needs we didn’t even know we had—the meaning of these buzzwords have become somewhat muddied and folks tend to use them interchangeably. However, there exist real differences among the terms, as ride-sharing companies and ride-hailing companies offer fundamentally different services.

Woman hailing a taxi in New York

What is ride-hailing?

Ride-hailing encompasses a range of companies and services, including traditional taxis and car services. The overarching idea of ride-hailing is that a customer hires a driver to take them exactly where they need to go, something accomplished by hailing a taxi from the street, calling up a car service on the phone, or virtually hailing a car and driver from an app.

What is ride-sharing?

Ride-sharing, to many, is a synonym for carpooling–literally sharing a ride with another passenger. Some “ride-sharing purists” even argue that it is not motivated by profit, but instead “for the sake of a social mission—mobility, environmental protection and cost savings,” writes In Transition Magazine.

Uber and Lyft refer to themselves as 'ride-sharing' companies.

Are Uber & Lyft Ride-sharing or Ride-hailing Services?

By the above definitions, we’d categorize Uber and Lyft as “ride-hailing” services — but there are other factors at play now.

The case for ride-hailing: Uber and Lyft emphasize individual customer service—picking up passengers (or an individual passenger) who summon or “hail” them exactly when they want to be picked up and taking them directly to their destinations in a professional driving setting. Further, as In Transition points out, Uber’s stock valuation is $40 billion, a figure that negates any argument that their primary goal is a social mission or public service (more characteristic of ride-sharing), rather than profit.

The Associated Press has also weighed in, instructing media to refer to both Uber and Lyft as “ride-hailing” or “ride-booking” services. Since each company connects passengers with drivers, neither actually provides the rides, something both Uber and Lyft do emphasize carefully in all of their communications.

The case for ride-sharing: Though true “ride-sharing” is more like carpooling, Uber and Lyft now both offer carpooling services as well, and therefore have entered the “ride-sharing” space. Further, and perhaps the clincher, Uber and Lyft (and their drivers) refer to themselves as “ride-sharing” companies. And Uber and Lyft essentially created the industry, so it’s hard to argue their self-identification.

uber on phone

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

 

Is BlaBlaCar a “True Ride-sharing Company” — and Does it Matter to Americans?

BlaBlaCar might be the biggest true ride-sharing company in the world—and though it’s taken off in many global cities, it is not available in the U.S., nor will it be any time soon, says founder Nicholas Brusson.

BlaBlaCar connects regular drivers and passengers who’d like to share long trips. People traveling with extra seats offer them up, and passengers then pre-pay to help with fuel and other traveling costs. Drivers are not professionals and they aren’t making a profit, they’re just offsetting their own costs—an important distinction between ride-sharing and ride-hailing. The European company has grown quite a bit in the five years since it launched, reaching 10 million rides per quarter, reports Forbes.

While business is booming for BlaBlaCar internationally, similar services haven’t caught on in the U.S. with the same intensity. Rdvouz, which connects regular drivers and passengers going to the same destination, has focused on the U.S. market but is still in its infancy. Another true ride-share option, Zimride, is a private carpool network for university students and companies. Though still active, Zimride has been significantly scaled down from its previous consumer-facing prospects, TechCrunch reports.

Whether or not “true ride-sharing” (as BlaBlaCar is characterized) can catch on in the U.S. remains to be seen. We’ve seen once-promising true ride-share services in the U.S. come and go—like Tripda, which had a similar model to BlaBlaCar. Even those in the true ride-share business remain skeptical: Rafael Ancheta, founder of Rdvouz, cited the U.S.’s lower relative gas and car ownership prices as significant ride-share obstacles, and wondered if Americans might be more comfortable with a chauffeur than a friend.

Ride-sharing vs. Ride-Hailing: Our Take

The AP notwithstanding, the majority of media, the public, and the big players themselves use “ride-sharing” to define Uber-type companies. For the sake of mass familiarity, we will continue to do so here on Quoted, too.