Uber's market lead in the ride-hailing sector over smaller competitor Lyft could be narrowing as Uber attempts to cut losses by raising fees, while Lyft uses a cash infusion to expand its U.S. presence.

Uber's share of the U.S. ground transportation market among business travelers fell to 54% in the third quarter from 55% in the second, according to a report by the travel-expense software maker Certify. While Uber's market share is up from 48% a year ago, the decline is the first since Certify started tracking such figures.

Meanwhile, Lyft's market share rose three percentage points between the second and third quarters, to 11%, and is up from just 4% a year ago, according to Certify, which culled its data from more than 10 million receipts and expenses.

The shift was most pronounced in Uber's and Lyft's home base of San Francisco, where Uber's share among business travelers fell 8% while Lyft's rose 9% from the second to the third quarter.

Uber said the Certify numbers that indicate the slight market-share drop may be misleading.

"We are seeing more organizations partner with Uber for Business because we can provide a centralized bill, which eliminates the need for rides to flow through expense platforms in the first place," the company said in a statement.

Still, the results may spell additional good news for Lyft, which earlier this month said it received a $1 billion funding round led by Google parent Alphabet.

The results may also reflect a public relations battle in the wake of a number of controversial issues that have dogged Uber all year, including sexual harassment allegations within the company and bad publicity from both former CEO Travis Kalanick's short-lived participation on President Donald Trump's economic advisory board and a February video showing him verbally accosting an Uber driver.

In September, Uber tapped Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to succeed Kalanick. Khosrowshahi reportedly set an 18-month timeline to take the company public.

Founded in 2012, Lyft has tried to position itself as the more passenger- and driver-friendly alternative.

"The battle [Uber and Lyft] are fighting is not so much technological or regulatory," said Exequiel Hernandez, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "It's more of a public-opinion battle. That's why you see Lyft coming up with this 'How You Get There Matters' ad campaign, which is a jab at Uber. They're saying, 'We're the nice guys.'"

Uber, which has been valued at as much as $60 billion despite never having reported a profit, could risk ceding further market share if it attempts to raise prices and add fees in order to cut operating losses. The closely held company doesn't disclose profit figures, though earlier this year it said it took a $2.8 billion loss on $6.5 billion in revenue last year when it sold its money-hemorrhaging China operations to Didi Chuxing.

Last week, the Verge reported that Uber will add fees for trips in which drivers have to travel longer distances to pick up passengers.

While the competition between the two largest U.S. ride-hailing companies stiffens, the sector continues to grab market share from more traditional ground transportation such as taxis, black-car services and car rentals. Certify said that the third-quarter market share of car rental and taxi companies each fell one percentage point, to 28% and 7%, respectively, from the second quarter.

"There's no doubt that these ride-sharing services provide a lot of value for a lot of people in terms of convenience, price and a common platform across a lot of markets" Hernandez said. "The sector is here to stay. The question is how it's going to shake out."

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI