By Meena Thiruvengadam
Ride-shares have gotten expensive enough in Chicago that Matt Shachat has decided it’s time to finally get a driver’s license.
A Bay Area native who has also lived in Boston, Shachat didn’t need to drive himself anywhere before. Even when he moved to Chicago, Uber rides to and from his office were within his budget at around $23 each way.
Nowadays, he’s paying closer to $32 a ride, an amount that works out to nearly $1,300 a month — enough to cover a car payment, insurance and parking. One 45-minute journey in recent weeks cost him $94, but it’s longer wait times that bother Shachat more than bigger bills. “This morning I was late to work even though I budgeted an extra 15 minutes,” he said, describing a transaction that required a 20-minute wait.
Shachat’s is a situation that’s playing out in cities across the U.S. as demand for rides has come roaring back faster than drivers and discount pool rides.
In Chicago, ride-sharing companies had a combined 48,000 drivers in April. That’s less than half the number of drivers that they had pre-pandemic, according to data collected by the city of Chicago. The city is also down one ride-sharing company, Via, which suspended public services during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, ride-share fares have been rising in Chicago, climbing to over an average of $22 in April from less than $16 in December, according to the city’s data. That’s still cheaper than a taxi, although the savings are narrowing.
Beyond free rides to vaccination appointments and discounts for new users, there is little relief in sight for ride-sharing customers until more drivers return to the apps — something Uber /zigman2/quotes/211348248/composite UBER +1.15% says is already happening. More than 33,000 additional drivers came online the week of May 17 alone, an Uber spokeswoman said, noting a decline in surge pricing in Los Angeles and New York.
Lyft said it too is seeing pressures ease and customer wait times decrease. At a J.P. Morgan /zigman2/quotes/205971034/composite JPM +1.92% conference last month, Lyft /zigman2/quotes/208999293/composite LYFT +0.44% co-founder John Zimmer said he expects driver supply and rider demand to become more balanced in the next few months.
In the meantime, here are a few hacks to cut your transportation costs that don’t involve buying a car or learning how to parallel park.
Call a cab or car service
Before there was ride-sharing, there were cabs. New Yorkers used to scan the streets for them, raising an arm to flag one down. And that technique still works — if you can find a taxi.
In New York, thousands of the city’s famous yellow cabs remain idled, partly because of the pandemic and partly because of a collapse in the value of city-issued medallions which used to sell for over $1 million before the rise of ride hailing. A similar story has played out in Chicago where there are now one-third as many cabs in operation as there were in February 2020 — the month before the pandemic began shutting down parts of the U.S.
Thankfully, there are apps that can help hail a cab. Arro and Curb are two apps that can help customers locate taxis in a number of cities. They’re similar to Uber and Lyft, but for traditional cabs. Because pricing is metered, there is no surge pricing.
Curb operates in cities including Chicago, Austin, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. It boasts access to more than 50,000 cabs and 100,000 drivers across the U.S. Arro is available in New York, Boston, Miami, Houston and Chicago.
Another option is to use a car service. While you can request limos and luxury vehicles, many offer more everyday options including minivans and sedans. Cars come with drivers and can be booked via apps, phone and online.
Carmel is a car service that’s been operating in the New York City area for more than 30 years and can now be booked via app. In Chicago, Blacklane and Chicago Private Car offer online booking.
Look for other ride-sharing services
Uber and Lyft may be the best known names in the ride-sharing business, but there are some U.S. cities where you have more options to catch a ride.
In Hawaii, Holoholo is a new ride-sharing service that eschews surge pricing, an unwelcome experience founder Cecil Morton has had as a ride-sharing customer. Morton has run an airport shuttle business for more than 20 years and describes Holoholo as a “natural progression” given the rising popularity of ride-sharing.
In the continental U.S., Wingz is a San Francisco-based ride-sharing service that started with airport rides. It now offers in-town rides and errand services as well as rides to and from the airport in cities including Austin, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando and Phoenix.
Hop on a bike or scooter
Several cities now have bike and scooter rental services, providing yet another affordable way for people to get around cities including New York, Chicago, Austin, and more.
Divvy has more than 6,000 bikes and 600 stations in Chicago where single rides are priced at $3.40 a trip and day passes are $15. In the New York City area, Citi Bike has more than 20,000 bikes and more than 1,300 stations. Single rides cost $3.50 a trip while day passes are $15.
Lime has scooters available in cities across the U.S. including Chicago, San Francisco, Austin and Charlotte. Lime charges a fixed rate to unlock a scooter than a location-based per-minute rate to ride the scooter. Rates are displayed ahead of a ride.
Lyft has scooters and bike rentals in cities including Minneapolis, Denver, Washington, D.C. and San Diego.
Take public transit
There are a few pockets of the U.S. where public transit really can take you almost anywhere you want to go, and for a fraction of what you might pay for a ride-share or a cab.
The New York City subway system has resumed 24-hour operations. Each ride costs $2.75, or you can whittle that down by ordering a weekly or monthly pass if you plan to make regular round trips. The subway runs between Manhattan and JFK International Airport, though there is an additional $7.75 fee for airport service. City buses also provide connections to LaGuardia International Airport.
In Washington, D.C., the Metro provides access to popular tourist destinations including the National Mall, the White House and several Smithsonian museums. Ride prices are based on distance and time of day, but the most expensive fares in the system are $7.50 for express airport service. D.C.’s Metro runs to Ronald Reagan International Airport. Bus connections are available to Dulles International Airport.
San Francisco has BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system of trains and busses. Even Los Angeles, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Houston have some type of rail or light rail service.
Chicago has the L, the city’s mostly elevated local train system. For the bargain price of just $5, the L will take you from O’Hare International Airport to the Magnificent Mile where shops, restaurants and architectural icons await.
That price is a fraction of what you could expect to spend on an Uber or a Lyft between downtown Chicago and the airport — even back when drivers were plentiful and rides were cheap.