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How much more popular is Uber than Lyft? Here’s a clue, using Venmo data

A driver with the ride-sharing service Lyft waits for a customer on a street in Santa Monica, California October 17, 2013. Lyft allows customers to book rides from a network of screened drivers, who pull up in cars with fluffy pink moustaches attached to the fenders. Payment is in the form of a donation, made via the Lyft smartphone app. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS TRANSPORT) - RTR4GW09
Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
Still a long way to go for Lyft.
By Zach Wener-Fligner
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Uber, the startup recently valued at $40 billion, is winning the online car-service industry. Lyft, its biggest competitor, is valued at $2.5 billion. Though the two companies are ruthlessly competitive, for now, Uber is ahead.

But by how much? It’s hard to say. One study that analyzed credit-card use found that from June 2013 to May 2014, US users chose Uber seven times as much as they chose Lyft, and spent 12 times as much on Uber rides as on Lyft rides.

For a different analysis, we looked at data from Venmo, the popular US peer-to-peer payment app. When users pay each other on Venmo, they fill out a text field that describes the transaction, like the “memo” line on a check. At Quartz, we collected every public Venmo transaction for more than a week—a total of over 800,000 transactions. Then we counted the number of occurrences of the words “Uber” and “Lyft.” Here’s what we found:

Obviously, these aren’t definitive results. Not everyone who splits a ride will use Venmo to pay back the difference, and even if they do, they may not specify ”Uber” or “Lyft” in the transaction message. Both Uber and Lyft offer in-app fare-splitting, so people who do split rides have plenty of options for paying one another back, even if they’re totally over cash.

But among a certain sector of users, this is a good way to gauge the size of the gap Lyft hopes to close.

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