Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are all the rage these days. As a San Franciscan, I use Uber and Lyft a lot to get around. My hometown is the home turf to both services, meaning that coverage and response time are excellent.
I also have used Uber and Lyft when traveling in quite a few places. I’ve had almost uniformly excellent experiences from everywhere from Orlando, Florida to Panama City, Panama. (There was that one time my two year old threw up all over me on an Uber in Panama, but we won’t go there….)
Taking a ride-sharing service with kids, however, adds a few new considerations and sometimes even some complications. Here is what families need to know about using Uber and Lyft.
Uber and Lyft Basics
First things first for beginners… if you’ve never used a ride-sharing service, the way it works is pretty simple. Download the company’s app to your smartphone and set up an account with your credit card linked to it. When you need to be picked up, go into the app and it will drop a GPS pin in the location where you are standing. If you want to be picked up elsewhere or GPS got your location a bit wrong, just drag and drop the pin to the right spot. Request the kind of car choice you need (there are quite a few options – more on that later). You’ll be able to see approximately how many minutes you will need to wait until your car arrives. It’s also best to input your destination into the app (if you haven’t already done that yet yet) so the driver can follow GPS directions along the way as soon as you hop in the car.
After making a request for a car in the app, your driver will then come to you. You can watch his or her progress via GPS in the app, which will tell you what your driver and the car will look like so you can spot it approaching. The app further allows you to text or call your driver if you need to communicate additional information (like you can’t find each other). Hop in when your driver arrives and be pleasant and courteous (remember: the apps allow drivers to rate YOU just like you rate THEM!).
After you take the ride, just hop out and be on your way. The fee is charged to the credit card you have on file. Lyft allows you to add a tip in the app and Uber is finally rolling out that same feature in most major markets. For the markets where tipping is not yet available, Uber drivers sometimes encourage cash tips but its entirely up to you whether you want to or not. Rate your driver after the ride is over in the app.
What Families Need to Know About Using Uber and Lyft
1. Uber & Lyft will save you money.
The major reason that all travelers – including families – should consider ride-sharing services is budget. Ride-sharing services are usually quite a bit cheaper than taxis or car services in every major world city.
In addition, both Uber and Lyft regularly offer promotions to entice new members to join and try them out, saving even more money. If you aren’t already a member of either or both, sign up whenever you spot a good promotion. (And if you want to support Trips With Tykes, you are welcome to use my referral codes. My referral code for Lyft is DAVID48110 and offers up to $20 in free ride credit. Use promo code davidn21207ue to get $10 off your first ride. Please note that these offers change regularly but they are current as of 8/6/2017.)
2. They’ll keep you from being ripped off.
In some international destinations, cabs are known for ripping off tourists, especially in cities that don’t have metered taxis. Haggling with a driver is the last thing I want to do when I’m juggling two kids and trying to get where I’m going. Because technology tracks Uber and Lyft drivers and charges by the mile, it keeps the drivers honest.
3. Make sure to select the right vehicle size.
The bigger the car you request, the more you’ll pay with ride-sharing services. Obviously, the key for families is to get the smallest car possible to fit everyone plus luggage. The risk, however, is that the car that arrives will be too small and you’ll have to waste time requesting another.
My family of four (including two small kids) has never had an issue squeezing into a regular Lyft or a standard Uber (called UberX). We use one car seat and one travel booster, so that makes us a bit more compact than families with more than one child of car seat age. If you want more space for car seats or have a bigger crew, opt for a bigger car size. Lyft offers “Plus” with up to six seats and Uber offers UberXL that also holds 6.
4. Plan for car seats.
Speaking of car seats, the biggest challenge in using Uber and Lyft with younger kids is the car seat dilemma. You can’t exactly bring a car seat with you if you are taking a ride to a museum or an attraction where there is nowhere to store it at your destination.
I will admit to going without a car seat on a rare occasion in an international location where car seats are not the norm (and for a short trip only), but I wouldn’t be caught dead in the United States doing that. Many Uber and Lyft drivers in the US will deny you a ride if you don’t have a car seat for a child of an age that requires one. It’s too much potential liability and they risk being ticketed for disobeying state laws.
Luckily, Uber offers UberFamily (also called Uber Car Seat) in a few cities. This service includes a single car seat for an additional charge (usually $10). Right now, the program is in New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Orlando. You’ll see the option in the app if a car is available in your area. Just be aware that car seats are forward-facing so they are ideally for kids ages 2-6 (the New York city program allows children starting at age 1 to ride, with the Car Seat Lady’s blessing). See my complete guide to using Uber Car Seat in Orlando, which I have personally experienced.
For kids of booster age, however, I’d recommend traveling instead with a portable booster seat like the Bubble Bum or the mifold travel booster that you can carry yourself. No extra fees or waits, and you’ll already know how to use your own device.
5. Know about surge pricing.
One risk to using Uber and Lyft is periods of high demand. Both services implement surge pricing when cars are in short supply (Lyft calls it Prime Time). While Lyft used to cap surge pricing at 2x, that cap has now been removed. If you are in a busy city during a busy time, just be sure to plan ahead and budget for surge pricing if you are going to use these services.
6. Have – and use – both apps.
Uber is in many more cities than Lyft at this point, but I strongly recommend that you know how to use both apps for travel to cities in which they both have coverage. Being able to look at both gives you more flexibility. On some occasions, the wait for a car on one service is substantially shorter. In other situations, one service may be charging surge pricing but the other is not. You’ll save money and time making Uber and Lyft compete for your business.
7. Airport pickups are not always possible.
Many families will likely use Uber and Lyft primarily for trips to and from the airport (that’s when you are most likely to be able to bring and use your own car seat). But it’s very important to know that there are a number of cities where Uber and Lyft operate but aren’t allowed to do airport pickups.
Before traveling to a new city and expecting to just hop in an Uber upon your arrival into the airport, check to see if it is available. When this post was originally published, for example, neither MCO airport or LAX allowed Uber or Lyft to pick up on their property (luckily, both have implemented a change to allow the services, but quite a few other cities – especially internationally – are trying to ban them). While I know many a solo traveler will hack that problem by walking a few hundred yards off-site and meeting a car there, that isn’t as easy for family travelers who likely aren’t as mobile with luggage and little ones.
One final tip: even if ride-sharing services can’t pick up at an airport, nearly all of these airports allow ride-sharing services to drop you off.
Have you taking Uber or Lyft with kids? What were your experiences?