In For A Ride

By Ron Donoho / Photos by Paul Body

These days, when heading out and wanting to leave your car at home, calling a cab isn't the only option.

Lyft, for example, is a casual, cost-efficient choice that recruits regular citizens to become taxi drivers. Using their own cars, these part-time chauffeurs pick you up, drop you off and chat you up along the way. Uber , on the other hand, offers higher-end rides in Lincoln Town Cars and Cadillac Escalades with professional drivers at the wheel. Both companies' customers use a smartphone app to summon services.

When backseat driving won't do, hop in a Car2Go. These all-electric smart cars are parked all over town, and they're available for immediate rent - for a few minutes or the entire day. When you're done, simply abandon the vehicle wherever you'd like (geographic restrictions apply).

"People are changing their driving habits," says Car2Go U.S. regional manager Mike Cully. "Car2Go, Lyft and Uber all fill in the blanks of urban transportation today."

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Car2Go

Download the app, use Car2Go's GPS system to locate one of 380 nearby electric smart cars, and then hop in and drive away. A plastic card with a magnetic strip grants drivers access to the cars, which rent for 38 cents per minute, $13.99 per hour or $72.99 for a full day (not counting a onetime registration fee of $35.)

Car2Go has become an international phenomenon. San Diego was the second U.S. startup (after Austin, Texas) and the only city in the nation that's 100 percent electric.

"San Diego has the charging stations available that make that a robust possibility," says Car2Go U.S. regional manager Mike Cully.

This car-sharing company's partnership with the city of San Diego allows drivers to drop off the cars and park for free in any metered space within a 32-square-mile, downtown-centric zone. Cully says an agreement reached in July makes Car2Go parking free in Chula Vista as well.

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Lyft

Next time you need a lift, download the Lyft app, tap a button, and a driver will respond in minutes. They will be piloting their own car - be it a white Hyundai sedan, a green Subaru station wagon or almost any other kind of car - adorned with a fuzzy, pink mustache hanging above the front license plate.

"Lyft is your friend with a car, whenever you need it," says Erin Simpson, the company's director of communications.

It's all very chummy. Passengers can choose to sit in the front seat (Simpson says about 80 percent opt to do so), where they can charge their phones, control the radio and discuss the meaning of life with the driver. A video on the Lyft website all but encourages passengers/driver love connections. Simpson notes that Lyft rides have led to the formation (between driver and passenger) of at least one band in L.A. In San Francisco, a driver hooked up a passenger with Giants tickets.

A peer-to-peer transportation solution intended to make cities safer, more affordable and better connected, Lyft launched in 2007 under the name Zimride. Today, the company operates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Boston and, since July 4, San Diego.

As for safety, Lyft's driver-screening process includes DMV and criminal background checks, all vehicles must be model year 2000 or later, and all drivers are issued a $1 million (per occurrence) liability insurance policy.

Some Day Driver: Meet Lyft driver Aidin (pronounced "eye-deen") Esparza, a Bankers Hill high school teacher who moved to San Diego from L.A. in 1996.

Nickname: Aidinie the Traveling Genie

Car: 2011 silver Mazda CX7 mini-SUV

Discovered Lyft: "Through an intriguing Facebook ad."

Previous experience: "I was always the one who drove friends places and was the designated driver."

Greeting passengers: "I always do the fist bump. I get a lot of hugs at the end."

Best shift: "I made about $300 during a 10-hour shift."

The trademark pink mustache: "It's great to drive with it on the car. Kids point at it. I get thumbs-up. People take pictures. It's unique. I love it."

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Uber

It's hard not to feel cool when arriving in a slick, black, unmarked Uber car. Slicker still is that, when you get out of the car, there's no exchange of money. Payment, including a tip of about 20 percent, is charged to the credit card you enter when registering the Uber app on your smartphone.

Uber started rolling in 2010 in San Francisco and now operates in 36 cities worldwide. When it launched in San Diego in June 2012, it had just five cars servicing the Gaslamp. Today, roughly 500 driver-owned Uber vehicles deliver passengers in style across the county.

Uber offers three levels of cars: Uber X, which are mid-range sedans and hybrids; Uber Black, which include Lincoln Town Cars and Mercedes; and Uber SUV, Cadillac Escalades and the like, which can transport up to six passengers. Uber X costs about 20 percent less than a standard cab fare. Uber black costs about 20 percent more than a taxi, but the fact that the drivers open the door for you (and often let you drink alcohol in the back seat) as they would in a limo makes the price feel like a bargain.

For those on slightly lower budgets, Uber now offers fare-splitting, wherein the cost of a ride can be divvied up between multiple passenger accounts.

Here's something u?ber-cool: Uber Ice Cream. During a July 19 promotion, Uber users in 33 cities across the globe pushed a button on their phones, and voila - an ice cream truck appeared. Prices started at $25 for five people; the fee was automatically charged to users' credit cards on file.

The uberest Uber? Hands down, it's Uber Chopper, which flies up to five passengers from New York City to the Hamptons (where an Uber SUV is waiting) for $3,000.

Fare Well: Meet Uber X driver Reza Veyceh (not pictured), a Mission Beach student and gay activist who emigrated here from Iran and is awaiting confirmation of his U.S. citizenship.

Car: 2006 Honda Civic hybrid

Previous experience: "Yellow cab driver for three years. It was hard to make money. I definitely transferred my stress to customers."

New attitude: "You can make money at Uber. I'm so much happier, and I feel respected."

Best shift: "I made $250 on the Fourth of July."

Average rate: "Most days, you average about $20 an hour."

Best service: "An Uber car will always arrive quickly. That means drunks don't have to worry about DUIs.""

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Carpooling Resources

You've probably noticed those Park & Ride signs along the county's highways and byways, but what happens there? Essentially, they're parking lots where people can meet, call shotgun and commute to work in the carpool lanes. There are 63 such sites in San Diego, says Caltrans District 11 Park & Ride Coordinator Mike Roy. About half are owned by the state, the others are privately run by churches, shopping centers or by the county. A few Park & Rides along I-15 are transit centers, meaning busses stop there. A half-dozen locations offer bike lockers. Fourteen locations have donation centers for Goodwill, AMVETS and the Salvation Army. Those charities staff security personnel from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The busiest Park & Ride is on the I-805 at Sweetwater Road in South Bay, where Roy says the 135 parking spots are full 99 percent of the time.

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