Riding high: Pittsburghers can gain from car service competition

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The ride-share services Lyft and Uber have been taking customers all over Allegheny County for several months now, giving rise to an activity that previously was impossible in the local transportation market: comparison shopping.

The Pittsburgh Transportation Group, which owns Yellow Cab Co., has had a near monopoly on local car service for so long that residents never had a basis for comparison. That changed with the introduction of the two Web-based ride services in February, and Pittsburghers now have more options when they don’t want to use their personal vehicles or public transit.

A team of Post-Gazette reporters tested the market last week, and they accumulated just the sort of data that a careful consumer wants: price differences for going to and from the same locations, wait times, quality of drivers, cleanliness of vehicles and more.

The short version of their reports:

Yellow Cabs can take a long time to arrive, getting through to the company’s dispatching center requires patience, too, and the fares are higher — none of which will surprise longtime residents.

Lyft drivers don’t seem to know their way around as well as other companies’ drivers, but for the bargain hunter the service had the lowest prices.

Uber met our reporters’ expectations for punctuality and ride, although some had difficulty with its Web application or distinguishing Uber cars that came to pick them up from other vehicles in traffic.

There’s room for improvement all around, and service in cities where Uber and Lyft have operated for years suggests that it will come in time. The advantage of healthy competition is that there now is incentive for Yellow, Lyft, Uber and any other companies that want to enter the market to do a better job in order to win customers.

All of which is a strong argument for approval by the Public Utility Commission of pending license applications and a change in law that would reduce the bureaucratic hurdles that exist today for newcomers to the transportation business.

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