MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
We're going to put ride sharing services to the test in this next story. It seems every month, we're hearing about companies like Uber and Lyft facing new legal threats. Right now in L.A. and San Francisco, district attorneys are looking into the quality of the background checks the companies do on their drivers. This comes as a new study in San Francisco shows Uber and Lyft are taking a lot of business away from traditional taxis. NPR's Laura Sydell did a comparison of her own.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: I did an experiment with two of my colleagues, Michaeleen Doucleff and Richard "Buster" Gonzales. We stood outside our office in San Francisco, and Michaeleen called a taxi, Richard called an Uber, and I called a Lyft.
We are going to take it to the same destination - San Francisco's beautiful Ferry Building. So who's first, fastest and cheapest? All right. Are we ready? Let's go.
I'll tell who won in a minute, but first here's Amy Keyishian to explain why she stopped using taxis.
AMY KEYISHIAN: I had too many bad experiences where I would call a cab and either be waiting for over an hour or over two hours, in one case when I was pregnant and standing in front of UCFS Hospital.
SYDELL: But if you talk to traditional taxi drivers, as my colleague Michaeleen Doucleff did while she raced to the Ferry Building, they'll tell you that riders like Keyishian are taking a risk. Her driver, Abdul Anabazaar (ph) says, last New Year's, an Uber driver hit and killed a six-year-old girl.
ABDUL ANABAZAAR: Uber said, we're not responsible because the driver didn't have the customer in the car. But he was going to pick up somebody.
SYDELL: Taxis in San Francisco are always covered by a million dollars of insurance - Uber and Lyft, far less. And Kate Toran of San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Authority say, rider services aren't set up to help the disabled. But since traditional taxi drivers are struggling to make ends meet, the number willing to put in the extra time to serve the disabled has dropped.
KATE TORAN: It's not easy to provide accessible taxi service. And it's something we've been doing for many years, and we still work hard at it. That requires a very robust training program.
SYDELL: Still, there's a feeling that overall service is better for most San Franciscans. Alan Cooper (ph) says, it's gotten easier to get a traditional cab, and it's often cheaper during peak hours.
ALAN COOPER: I've now found myself in those peak hours, when Uber is at 2 - 2.5X surge pricing or - this morning, for instance - 10 to 15 minutes away is the closest UberX, hailing a cab is actually much easier.
SYDELL: But at other times, when you're far away from downtown at a non-peak hour, Uber and Lyft have a lot to offer. I took the Lyft.
OK. So I've arrived, and I'm looking now for Buster or Michaeleen.
I waited a couple of minutes.
Did you just get dropped off?
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: You beat me?
SYDELL: I beat you. How much it cost you?
It cost Buster $12.09. It cost me $12. Michaeleen doesn't arrive until 11 minutes after I do.
Now, how much did yours cost?
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: Twenty bucks - $16, and I tipped him.
SYDELL: So on this trip, Lyft came first, Uber was a close second, and the conventional cab, a distant third. But ironically, when it came time to head back to the office, the Lyft driver couldn't find us along the crowded waterfront, so we hopped into an empty taxi. We started chatting with driver Frank Tan (ph), and he shows us his new app, Flywheel. It's like Uber or Lyft for regular taxis.
FRANK TAN: When - after the people use it, they will like it.
SYDELL: Clearly, the competition is forcing traditional cab companies to step up their game and its consumers, who stand to reap the benefits. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.