Harry here. Surge and Prime Time are one of the best ways to increase your earnings as a driver and work smarter, not harder. But they are far from equal. Today, senior RSG contributor Christian Perea uses his Lyft and Uber experience to compare and contrast the two. Check out what he has to say and don’t forget to vote in our poll at the end of this post!
Any time you can earn more while doing the same amount of work, you’re probably talking about a good thing. Today, we’re breaking down Uber’s Surge vs. Lyft’s Prime Time since both programs are a version of “dynamic pricing” and act to raise driver payouts when there are not enough drivers on the road to meet passenger demand.
But when it comes to Lyft vs Uber in dynamic pricing, there are a lot of differences and nuances that can affect your payout as a driver.
Related Video: Why Is It Surging and I’m Not Getting Any Requests?
Choosing the right platform at the right time can make the difference between a $10 dollar ride and a $50 ride so it’s good to know how Uber’s Surge and Lyft’s Prime Time work so you can maximize your pay. As fares drop, developing an efficient Surge and Prime Time strategy becomes more important as drivers rely more on these rides to make good money on the platform of their choice.
Surge Vs. Prime Time: User Interface
Uber displays its surge pricing to the driver using multicolored tiles on the map within the Uber Partner app. Surge will be added to any ride requested from that given tile. The color of tiles are displayed on a range from yellow, to orange, to red, to DARK BLOOD RED depending on how much Surge pricing there is. If you zoom in, it will tell you the exact surge rate in EACH square as shown above.
Related Article: How to use the Uber driver and passenger apps
All of the tiles make up a heat map where the darker the “red” is, the higher the surge is. You can even toggle the display of Surge pricing “On” or “Off” if the surge is too red and blocking out the map. When you receive a request on Uber, the request will notify the driver of the exact surge amount for the ride as the request begins to count down. The driver can then choose to accept the ride or to deny it for a different ride.
How Surge is Calculated: Via Uber
Lyft Prime Time
Lyft Prime Time is pretty far behind Uber Surge in user experience. The Lyft app only displays a range of what the dynamic pricing is throughout any given area and it displays squares instead of tiles. But the squares don’t even tell you how much Prime Time there is.
Lyft only displays Prime Time levels in two colors; pink and magenta. To complicate that, the amount of Prime Time on a given pink or dark pink tile varies. This means you don’t even really know what these stupid pink squares mean! They are unpredictable.
I have received 0% Prime Time after getting a request in a magenta square many times. I have also received 100% Prime Time when there were no pink Prime Time Squares on Lyft’s heat map. It just appeared out of nowhere. I often feel like Prime Time is determined by a Random Number Generator.
Basically, knowing the amount of Prime Time on a Lyft ride from the driver’s side is a giant crap-shoot riddled with frustration and opacity. The heat maps are merely meant to be used as “kinda-sorta-over-there” guides because Prime Time actually shifts faster than it reflects itself on the driver side of the app.
This has led many drivers becoming extremely frustrated with Lyft Prime Time because there is very little transparency and it is very messy. Drivers will often think their Prime Time ride is on 150% only to find it was actually at 75%.
User Interface Winner: Uber
Related article: Essential gear every rideshare driver should have
Surge vs. Prime Time: Side-By-Side
Knowing Vs Not Knowing
Uber tells you how much surge is on the ride request in advance while Lyft does not. It seems like Lyft refuses to show Prime Time to drivers because they believe drivers will simply cherry-pick rides that have higher Prime Time.
Because of this, many drivers will only drive for Uber when it surges. They flip over to the app they trust. In turn, Uber gets more drivers on their system, making it more reliable for riders and forcing surge down. In this way, Surge is actually more effective in getting more drivers on the road. Lyft is left realizing what it feared most: an unreliable platform for customers with long pickup times that frustrates passengers and drivers alike.
Surge vs. Prime Time: Refresh Rates
From my experience driving, Lyft’s Prime Time refreshes roughly every 1 minute while Uber’s Surge refreshes around every 2 minutes. This may not seem like a big deal but there is also a delay between what the passenger sees as Surge/Prime Time and what the driver sees.
Surge and Prime Time apply to the ride AT THE TIME the passenger pushes the button to request a ride. This is why there is often a discrepancy between displayed Surge/Prime Time and what is actually paid out; you get paid based off of what the passenger saw at the time they requested the ride. If it’s a LyftLine that took 2 minutes to process, the difference can be huge.
Related Video: What can Uber drivers do about surge discrepancies?
Is There More Prime Time or Surge?
This really depends on which market you are in. Uber Surge tends to cover a larger area that blankets an entire part of the city, with the highest surge being the “center” of the event and smaller surge rings surrounding that area. Like a nuclear blast zone.
In comparison, Lyft Prime Time can be hyper-focused into a small area. Sometimes a single city block will be 200% Prime Time while the rest of the city has no price multiplier.
There can also be alot more Prime Time when Uber is offering guarantees since drivers will shift over to the Uber platform in order to meet their ride count for hourly guarantees, the Precious Metals Program, or Power Driver Plus. This results in a driver shortage on Lyft and creates Prime Time that lingers around for hours. I make more on Lyft when this happens simply by being where the other drivers are not.
Surge vs Prime Time: Are They Capped?
Surge has never really been capped unless there is a natural disaster. Lyft used to cap Prime Time at 200% but removed the cap in February of 2016. That being said, Lyft’s Prime Time will still rarely go above 200% while Uber is more likely to go as high as 3.0X to 4.5x during a major event.
Guaranteed Surge vs Prime Time
Uber offers guaranteed surge to certain partners. It is only in a few markets, and if you are lucky enough to get the offer you must login to the app. Uber has also been known to designate guaranteed surge pricing in a certain area for a certain period of time. However, it is relatively rare.
Lyft does not offer guaranteed Prime Time to select partners on a wide basis, although they have tested it in the past. Instead, Lyft will notify all of the drivers in a market in advance that there will be “Guaranteed Prime Time” in a certain areas. They will list the times, amount of Prime Time, etc a few days in advance and you don’t even have to opt-in.
When it comes to ease of use, and the frequency in which guaranteed Prime Time is used, I think Lyft does a better job than Uber. However, if you are lucky enough to be offered guaranteed surge, you should take it every time since it does not get offered to everybody. This means you will get more rides on Uber while hordes of drivers flock to Lyft’s guaranteed Prime Time zone.
Pro-Tips From Pro Drivers: Getting More Requests on Surge or Prime Time
Jeffrey Fang: (~9,400 Rides)
“Patience is the most critical fundamental practice in the face of Prime Time/surge while staying calm and knowing your local market and traffic laws regarding TNCs. All of this will help you earn more Surge or Prime Time in the long run.”
Jeffrey’s Pick: Prime Time
The Wanderer: (17,234 Rides)
“If you have multiple phones for doing Uber and Lyft, you can make a secondary passenger account for both to monitor where you think there will be Surge or Prime Time. You can check real time Surge or PT (to avoid the 30 second lag) and monitor the number of drivers that are in that area. For example, when I analyze an area that has Surge through the passenger app, I also look closely to see where the nearest other driver is and if I see on the passenger app that the other driver is closer to where I know a request will happen, I will drive closer to the event (while logged off) ahead of him so I will get the ride request before him 😉
So if I see that two drivers are in the northern part of an area that has a lot of surge, I will move to JUST south of those drivers so I am most likely to be the closest driver within the largest area of the Surge zone.”
Wanderer’s Pick: Surge
So Which Pays More?
Most drivers will say Surge pays more because the driver is able to take advantage of knowing whether or not their ride is on surge. This leads to more certainty and less stress for drivers.
Uber also tends to have higher demand in most markets. Their surge covers a wider area of the city, making it easier to get a request. And when you factor in product developments like “Upfront Pricing” on Uber’s end, then I think passengers are even more likely to request on surge because they see an upfront price that seems fair to them rather than not requesting because they feel they are getting a bad deal via “getting surged.”
Lyft Prime Time can still pay more in many situations though. If you are in a market where you get about as many requests as you do on Uber, then Prime Time can pay more in the long run because a driver can lower their commission via Lyft’s Power Driver Bonus. When compared to Uber, it’s like having all of your rides on 1.3X throughout the week while drastically reducing the larger commissions taken on Prime Time rides. Lyft’s rates also tend to be higher and you can of course receive tips through the app.
However, the majority of drivers are likely to earn more via Uber’s Surge. Especially if you are part-time or only driving on the weekend.
RSG Winner: Surge
For most drivers, Uber’s surge is the better choice. But if you are a full time driver in a busy market that gets the Power Driver Bonus, then Lyft Prime Time may be better for you at the end of the week since you end up erasing a lot of your commission.
The Verdict: Surge Is Better For Drivers Right Now
As much as I love Lyft, Uber easily wins in the Surge vs. Prime Time shootout. Drivers get more information in real time about Surge. They know in advance that their call is on “surge” pricing. The heat maps make more sense, with better tiles and coloring schemes that correspond to actual pricing. Furthermore, the surge tiles cover a larger area that makes more sense for drivers and passengers. Even though Lyft has removed the Prime Time cap of 200%, it still seems like it rarely goes above 200%, and there is something within the Lyft Prime Time algorithm that prevents it from going above the old cap.
Let me really hammer this point. Between Jeffrey Fang, The Wanderer, and me, we have about 25,000 rides on Lyft over the course of 2 years- and we still don’t understand much of how Lyft’s Prime Time works.
New drivers will quickly become frustrated with the system in comparison to Uber’s. This ensures that when they have to choose between the two platforms, they go with the one that offers the best experience. When it’s Surge vs. Prime Time, Surge wins.
If I get a 2.0x surge request on Uber, what is the comparable amount on Lyft’s Prime Time?
Assuming base rates are exactly the same, a 2.0x surge ride on Uber equals a 100% Prime Time ride on Lyft. So on a regular $10 fare, the total would then be $20 if you get a 2.0x Uber ride or a 100% Lyft Prime Time ride.
Readers, what’s your opinion on the Surge vs. Prime Time debate?
-Christian @ RSG
Related article: Essential gear every rideshare driver should have