A warning for travelers who rely on rideshare company Lyft: The company is quietly hiding the true amount it takes in extra fees that are added to your base fare.
A recent ride I took from Orlando International Airport (MCO) illustrates the tactic, although the problem could affect Lyft users wherever the service is available in the United States.
The Orlando airport recently increased its mandatory per-ride surcharge to $7, one of the highest such fees in the country.
When Lyft shows the rates of various ride options from the airport, however, the app does not disclose the rideshare surcharge or, for that matter, any other extra charges that might be padding the bill. At no point in the booking process does the app warn consumers about the amount of extra fees that will be collected if a ride is accepted. Fine print only vaguely states "plus service fee and applicable fees."
By obscuring the true costs associated with choosing its service, including taxes, Lyft limits a consumer's ability to comparison shop among other modes of transportation.
If customers dig around Lyft's website (and not the app), the very bottom of the web page about the Orlando airport lists a question about any extra surcharges. The answer that appears acknowledges the additional fee but doesn't reveal the amount.
The fee "may not be included in your initial fare estimate," the page admits. But "you will see it on your ride receipt."
Despite that promise to customers, though, the app-generated receipt does not specify any built-in fees, listing only a lump sum labeled "Lyft Standard fare."
If you request a receipt to be emailed to you, the receipt you'll receive also fails to itemize taxes and fees paid, listing only a lump total ("Lyft fare") and tip amount.
Lyft's customer service agents will not furnish an itemized accounting of what you paid, either.
Of the $53 I was charged in Orlando, there was no way to know how much of the total went to Lyft and the driver, and how much went to tacked-on fees and surcharges, including the one charged by the Orlando airport that could have been avoided if I had chosen another transportation method.
Uber, Lyft's primary competitor in the U.S., has a better track record of disclosing cost breakdowns, as seen in this receipt for a ride in Seattle.
Frommer's contacted Lyft to ask how customers can obtain an honest disclosure of fees, as promised on Lyft's website. A company spokesperson responded: "Our FAQ page regarding airport fees is out of date, and does not reflect the change to upfront pricing. We appreciate you calling this to our attention. We'll be updating that page immediately."
But how can a Lyft customer find out exactly how much Lyft is charging in taxes and fees vs. the base fare?
This is what the Lyft spokesperson offered: "We can point your readers to our help page, which describes the fees included in their upfront price including 'any local fees like rideshare taxes, surcharges, and airport fees.' For more information on upfront pricing ('Quoted Fares') see our terms of service, which states that 'Quoted fares may include Rideshare Service Fees and Other Charges,' and lists airport fees as one of the possible 'Other Charges.'"
In other words, Lyft will not tell you how much of your "quoted fare" is actually filled out with extra fees.
A representative at the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which operates MCO, confirmed the $7 rideshare fee to Frommer's. "The pickup fee is charged to the rideshare companies to offset costs associated with ground transportation and maintenance," the representative said, adding that passengers are not warned about the fee on the airport's website because the fee is charged to rideshare companies and therefore "is not a customer fee," regardless of whether Uber and Lyft pass the charge on to customers.
Though the whole thing feels fishy and anti-consumer, nothing here is illegal. U.S. consumer protections are notoriously weak, so if a company wants to stonewall you about whether it's adding items to your bill, there's not much that can be done to convince the company to be more transparent.
Frommer's reached out to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to inquire about current laws surrounding disclosure of taxes and fees.
A spokesperson told us that the FTC does not comment about the practices of specific businesses, but, generally speaking, "a company may be in violation of the law if it does not provide complete and truthful information about its charges or misleads consumers about its products, services or charges."