On 16 March, Chinese ridesharing app Didi will launch in Sydney. Already available in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth, the app promises “a safe, reliable and value-for-money way to get around”, according to Lyn Ma, Didi Australia’s general manager.
That “value-for-money” statement will certainly be true in the first few weeks following the app’s launch – it is offering riders who sign up before launch a 50% discount on their first four weeks of rides, up to the value of $1200.
Didi is one of four major players in the Australian ride hailing market, alongside American giant Uber, Indian-based Ola and Estonian company Bolt, which was previously known as Taxify. All four apps vary slightly in their base pricing, ride offerings and compensation for drivers. But for consumers and drivers, there’s not a clear answer for which app is “best”.
The cheapest ride hailing app in Australia
“In your particular city, the cheapest one is going to be the new one on the market,” says Graham Cooke, the insights manager at comparison site Finder. Uber is typically slightly more expensive than its competitors, but “in terms of the base price they tend to be pretty similar”.
The real savings with ride sharing come from discount codes and offers, which are most aggressive when an app is new to an area and trying to win market share. For Sydneysiders, that means Didi is currently the best value for money, while in Melbourne, Cooke suggests looking to Bolt, which only recently arrived in that market.
After the initial launch period, ride hail prices will even out – at which point checking emails and texts for regular discount codes and offers will give riders the best value for money. “If you sign up for Ola and Bolt, you’ll tend to get regular discount offers and emails,” Cooke says. “Especially if you’re using the service for a while and stop using it. They’ll send you tailored discount offers.”
Even if you don’t currently have a discount code, the best way to get the cheapest fare is to “sign up for all four and play them off each other” by getting an estimated fare from each app and then selecting the cheapest option.
Cooke suggests all ride hailing apps tend to be cheaper than taxis, although large surges can change that. “Without surge, [ride sharing] is 30-40% cheaper than a taxi.”
Many ride hailing apps still have surge pricing – where prices rise when demand is higher – but Cooke says they are no longer transparent about surges. Instead, each app will present customers with a fare estimate. “The only way to tell is to jump into the apps and get a quote at the time.”
While the cheapest door-to-door ride hail service fluctuates with every trip, Cooke notes that UberPool, which routes trips with multiple passengers and drop-offs, “is quite probably the cheapest way to get to A to B” if you’re prepared to sacrifice a bit of convenience.
The ridesharing app that’s best for drivers
Like riders, ridehail drivers are offered incentives like lower fees to sign on to new apps. However, Les Johnson, secretary of the Ride Share Drivers’ Association of Australia, suggests that these are not all they’re cracked up to be. “They all practise the art of smoke and mirrors. It doesn’t matter which company you look at, the rate’s at a level where it’s not sustainable for drivers, and that’s why we have such a high turnover of drivers in Australia.”
Johnson says the commission rates vary between apps, but “the companies that have the lower rates of commission are struggling for market share, so slowly but surely they’re cutting the rates. They’re saying the drivers are earning more money but that’s not completely true.”
Johnson says that as with riders, who should be checking each app before a trip, “at the moment the only way a driver can maximise his or her earnings is to be on multiple platforms, so they’re getting the maximum number of jobs”.
Johnson believes that none of the major platforms currently offer drivers a fair rate after commission, GST and vehicle operating expenses. Licensing and regulations vary from state to state, but in Johnson’s home state of Queensland, he says, the most financially sustainable way to drive a private vehicle is to build up a loyal clientele and book work directly with customers whenever possible, rather than relying on ride hailing apps.
He says new drivers “come in, they’re told that there’s a rainbow at the end of the street. After a couple of months they realise that it’s not that and they opt out.”
The most convenient ride hailing app
Uber is the most established ride hailing platform in Australia. “They came in before it was even technically legal,” Cooke says.
Because Uber has been in the market for longer, has strong name recognition and is available in far more areas, it is often the only available option. “It’s more reliable in that way,” Cooke says. He also notes that Uber offers functionalities the other apps do not yet have, such as synchronisation with expense reporting software like Concur for SAP.
However, as the ride hailing market matures and grows, he adds, “the more competition there’ll be – and that should be better for consumers”.
The safest ride hailing app
The most important safety rule of using any ride hailing app is to ensure the vehicle and driver match the name and description supplied at the time of booking, Cooke says. “They all have insurance on the rides. As long as you make sure that it’s the correct car, it should be safe enough.”
However, ride hailing services have a far-from-spotless record on assault, for passengers or drivers. One service that places safety at the heart of its business is Shebah, an Australian ridesharing company that only hires female-identifying drivers, and only accepts rides from women, or men who are travelling with children. Shebah is also the only ridesharing app that is able to transport unaccompanied minors.
“We chose to do it. Taxis can take children as well,” says Georgina McEncroe, Shebah’s CEO. “There’s nothing lawfully stopping other rideshare drivers from offering that service. It’s a policy decision of theirs not to transport unaccompanied minors.” All Shebah drivers “meet our regional leaders face to face. They have contact with us. They’ve all completed working-with-children checks. It’s a very different set-up.”
Shebah cars are also equipped with child seats, which the drivers have been trained to properly fit. Shebah does work like a traditional ridesharing service, with real-time hailing, but it is still a small company and McEncroe recommends customers book rides in advance, “especially if they’re travelling with children”.
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