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Lyft won't let you pay what you want anymore — and will ask for extra tonight

Chicago’s last “pay what you want” on-demand ride service has made the switch to set prices.

Lyft sent an email to Chicago customers Tuesday announcing the change, which is in line with payment structures used by competitors UberX and Sidecar. The message also mentioned Lyft’s plans to charge higher fares on New Year’s Eve, which the San Francisco-based company calls “Prime Time Tips.” It reads:

Thanks for being part of this incredible year. Tonight, we’re celebrating the close of 2013 with what we expect to be the busiest night in Lyft history. Drivers are stocking up on party hats and playlists to give you a great time. Give your driver an extra-large fistbump to say thanks for being there for you on this holiday night!

Remember, we’re now open 24/7, so you can catch a ride home at any hour. Plus, Prime Time Tips will help bring more drivers on the road all night long. Drivers appreciate your extra support for taking time away from their friends and families on this special occasion, but they told us they don’t want to overcharge you.

So, we’re capping Prime Time Tips at 200% through the holiday. As always, every cent of Prime Time Tips goes directly to your driver (no fee for Lyft).

We’re also transitioning from donations to regular payments in Chicago starting today, providing peace of mind to drivers. You can always check prices in the app or our FAQ and request a price review through your ride receipt if you need to.

Lyft rolled out Prime Time Tips in Chicago last week. Uber also raises rates, which it calls “surge pricing,” when demand is high. (The company took heat in mid-December for charging some New York customers $100-plus for rides during a snowstorm. Uber said users were notified of the surge pricing before they agreed to the ride.) Sidecar, which this month in Chicago began charging a set rate per ride instead of taking donations, is putting its first “demand pricing” in place for New Year’s Eve, tripling fares during certain hours.

During periods of normal demand, Lyft, UberX and Sidecar’s standard pricing comes in under taxi fares, which are $3.25 a flag pull plus $1.80 per mile. Lyft says its new fees in Chicago are $2 for pickup, $1 for “trust and safety,” and $1.25 per mile. UberX charges a base fare of $3.15 plus $1.75 a mile, and Sidecar says its set-fare system charges riders 30 to 40 percent less than typical cab fares.

Drivers for the three services are regular folks using their own cars.