Uber and Lyft are playing a shameless game of copycat

Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
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Travis Kalanick never wanted Uber to offer scheduled rides.

“Some people still want to schedule rides, and they’re like, ‘where’s the scheduling interface?’” he said at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco last September. ”And I’m like, we want to be so reliable that you don’t have to schedule. … You don’t think about scheduling time with your shower. You just turn the faucet and it works.”

Fast-forward to this week and matters have clearly changed. On Thursday (June 9), Uber announced plans to make scheduled rides available globally, beginning with select passengers in Seattle. “Sometimes you want to schedule a pickup in advance so you can rest assured an Uber will be available when you need it,” the company says in a blog post. “We get it.”

Of course, Uber’s biggest rival “got it” first—Lyft debuted scheduled rides three weeks ago. The ride-hailing business is nothing if not shamelessly derivative.

There was that time in August 2014 when Uber announced UberPool, and Lyft pushed out Lyft Line the following day. Or, more recently, when ride-hailing startup Via secured $100 million in funding to grow its $5 rides for commuters in New York and Chicago, Uber four days later said Pool trips would cost $5 in Manhattan during commuting hours. Uber has surge pricing; Lyft has Prime Time. Lyft has Driver Destination; Uber has UberCommute. Uber has Enterprise Rent-A-Car; Lyft partners with General Motors on Express Drive.

The path to commoditization was already a short one, but ride-hailing companies are traveling it particularly fast. Uber’s and Lyft’s on-demand rides are all but identical. They have the same customers and, quite literally, many of the same drivers. In the US, they operate in the same cities. While the companies are at times united by conflicts with the taxi industry and local regulators, those clashes are the exception. Far more often, Uber’s and Lyft’s resources are devoted to competing with each another in a market that looks likely to be winner-takes-most, if not all.

Never is this more apparent than when money is involved. Uber and Lyft have both raised funds with relative ease, and they’re spending freely to steal market share, Lyft to the tune of $50 million a month. After Uber cut US fares in January, Lyft did the same within a week. In February, Uber rolled out a “power driver rewards” program in San Francisco that was remarkably similar to one already in use by Lyft. The two companies are constantly competing on referral bonuses for drivers and discounts for riders. Here in Manhattan, Lyft is running some sort of perpetually-expiring, never-actually-ending 50% off promotion. (“Time’s almost up,” Lyft warned on Thursday, for the third straight week.) Uber, meanwhile, this week congratulated select New York City riders on ”scoring” discounts of 60% to 75%.

Uber and Lyft don’t like to talk about their tit-for-tat. When Lyft cut fares in January, it deflected questions about whether the changes were made in response to Uber, saying instead that it wanted “to remain the most affordable option for passengers.” Uber, asked about its most recent ride promotion in New York City, declined to comment.

And on scheduled rides? Uber denies that its announcement was a response to Lyft’s. “We’ve been working to build this feature for quite a while to get it right,” a spokeswoman tells Quartz. “The option to have scheduled rides is a top-requested feature from riders.”

Somehow, that didn’t sway Kalanick last September.