On a recent Thursday afternoon, I requested a ride using my Lyft app and hopped into a stranger’s black pickup in San Francisco. Twangy country music filled the truck’s cabin. I asked the driver where he was from, though I suspected I already knew the answer.
The next questions I asked were the same ones I asked at least 15 additional Lyft drivers during the past month: Which GPS app did do you use for navigation, and why?Waze was the overwhelming favorite in my informal survey, and 10 drivers voted for the cheery, social-minded navigation app.
Waze was also the GPS app of choice for Michael from Texas, who is particularly fond of the app’s red-light camera alerts. A ticket for running a red light costs about $500 in California, the highest in the nation, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. But let’s get back to the other Lyft drivers and their favorite navigation apps.
Lyfters love Waze’s real-time traffic alerts
A few of the other drivers I talked to cited Waze’s real-time traffic congestion alerts as another favorite feature. I heard several stories about how Waze successfully rerouted drivers around traffic headaches. However, one driver said a passenger balked at the seemingly circuitous route Waze wanted them to follow to avoid traffic. The passenger insisted on taking another route, and they ended up lodged in aggravating traffic. The rider vowed to trust Waze in the future.
Not everyone loves Waze, of course, and some of the Lyft drivers said they don’t like all the in-app pop-ups. When you stop at a stoplight, for instance, Waze might tell you who among your contacts is currently using the app. But who cares if a Facebook friend in North Carolina is Waze-ing right that minute? How does that help you get to your destination safely?
Lyfters say Google Maps is more streamlined than Waze
Four of the drivers said Google Maps (for Android and iOS) was their primary navigation app. None were as enthusiastic about Google’s app as the Wazers were about that app. However, the Google Maps users said the app was just as useful as Waze, but without the occasionally annoying clutter of Waze’s interface.
Only one Apple Maps fan
Only one driver I spoke to used Apple Maps as his main GPS app. He said he uses Apple’s app because routes are more clearly visible on his iPhone screen than Google Maps or Waze maps.
When I asked the other drivers about Apple Maps, they shook their heads. The app’s directions have improved during the past few years, they said, but they’re still not as reliable as Google Maps or Waze. As if to illustrate that point, Apple Maps told my Lyft driver to go out of the way when taking me home.
What’s it all mean?
No single GPS navigation app delivers 100 percent reliable, sensible directions 100 percent of the time. They’re all flawed, but I’d be lost (literally) without them. And as frustrated as I’ve been with Google Maps, its directions and features continue to improve, so it’s the app I use most frequently. If I’m driving on the highway, however, I tend to rely upon Waze for user-generated reports about a car on the shoulder or a state trooper lurking ahead.
What about Uber?
You might be wondering why I didn’t interview any Uber drivers. I’ve used Uber in the past and mostly enjoyed the service — it’s certainly preferable to taxis. But I haven’t ridden with Uber since I started using Lyft a few months ago, and I didn’t start my survey until I became a Lyfter.
After just a few rides, I quickly became “Lyft loyal.” In my experience, Lyft drivers are consistently friendlier than Uber drivers. Only one Lyft driver out of nearly 20 trips was unfriendly, playing a Warriors game loudly on the car radio and paying more attention to Steph Curry than the road.
Maybe it’s the tips. Unlike Uber, the Lyft app lets you tip drivers. (Uber until recently discouraged tipping and still doesn’t fully endorse it, according to Gizmodo.) The Lyft drivers I spoke to acknowledged that tips are nice, but they also said Lyft treats them better than Uber. And nearly every Lyft driver said the riders are nicer than those they picked up via Uber. Lyft also reportedly encourages more individuality among its drivers, which might be why, to my slight surprise, I stepped into a stranger’s black pickup truck on a Thursday afternoon.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.