I Was an Uber Newbie

I was an Uber Virgin. The good and bad of the world's most popular ride-sharing App (thetravellingmom.ca)

Up until last week, I was an Uber virgin.

It’s not what you think. I haven’t been afraid of using Uber, though based on the various published news reports about poor marketing practices and bad driver behavior, I certainly could have been put off from ride-sharing. No, I haven’t used Uber because I live in Vancouver, Canada, and our city administrators and provincial officials are rare birds that haven’t been overly friendly to permitting Uber to operate in our fair city.

So Vancouverites can’t Uber unless we Uber away from home, which is precisely what I did recently while attending the TBEX Travel Blogging Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The beauty of calling up a ride at the touch of a button on my smartphone was pretty darn liberating. I loved it.

Here’s the lowdown.

The Good

  • The Uber App is quick and easy to download onto your iPhone or Android device. Enter your Paypal or credit card information ahead of your first ride, and payments are just as easy to process. The technology is seamless. I loved how the App was so wonderfully convenient to use.
  • Ordering a ride is as simple as typing in an address and requesting an UberX ride (Uber XL may also be an option depending on the city.) The ride-share options are shown on the GPS-enabled map, including time estimates for how close a driver is to your location. On any of my ride quotes, no driver was more than 4 minutes away – minimal waiting which is a BIG plus.
  • For each driver that accepted my ‘fare’, an avatar photo appeared on my iPhone so I could identify them upon arrival. Each driver I met was polite, driving a clean car, and knew their way around town (except for the example below).
  • You can get a fare estimate with a simple click if you’re not sure how far or expensive a ride will be. In an unfamiliar city like Fort Lauderdale, this was a super useful option in understanding destination distances and costs.
  • The ride-share cost includes a Safe Rides Fee, which presumably gives the rider comfort that drivers have been vetted through criminal record checks.
  • The ride-share cost is on average less than half the cost of a taxi ride. It’s affordable and makes a quality-of-life difference to many people I spoke to on my Florida trip. If you’re sharing an Uber ride, the math is even more favorable.
  • Tipping is optional, and yes, I tipped each Uber driver I met.

The Bad

  • Some Uber drivers can’t follow GPS instructions. This doesn’t differ so much from some taxi drivers, who are also logistically (and linguistically) challenged. It can be frustrating and if travelling solo, a little worrisome if you don’t know the city you’re visiting. One driver couldn’t find our location at all, (we were at a major hotel!), and so we had to cancel our ride order. My colleague was charged for the cancellation, which did not leave a good taste.
  • In some cities, texting and driving are apparently still in vogue. Obviously, this is not safe driving practice. Speak up and ensure your driver is paying attention the road, not their messages.
  • In many jurisdictions, the insurance industry hasn’t caught up to the ride-sharing economy. Drivers may not be properly insured for carrying paying passengers, so there is risk involved if something bad happens. Caveat emptor – Buyer Beware.
  • The jury’s out on how thorough those criminal record checks really are. Serious police checks cost time and money. One of my drivers was so new that he’d only been working for 5 days. I can’t imagine that his record check could have been terribly thorough.
  • A thought: If Uber destroys the taxi industry, competition will disappear and prices will likely rise. Uber’s substantial war chest allows them to apparently subsidize the ride-share service and undercut taxis, private sedans, etc. This could become problematic if they’re the last one standing and the defacto only game in town. Could they become just like the taxi industry today – unresponsive to customer demands and improved service? It remains to be seen.

Have you used Uber? What did you think about the service? Share your comments below.

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  • Amy Whitley says:

    I haven’t used it yet either, since we live in a small town. I’ve been tempted while traveling, but had heard that if you are a newbie, it’s harder to get rides through the app (you don’t have enough reviews or some such equivalent?). Maybe this is not true. But I’ve absolutely had it with taxis, so maybe I’ll try on our next big trip!

    • Claudia says:

      Interesting, I hadn’t heard that potential issue for newbies. I had no problem getting a ride at all, so hopefully that’s some reassurance! It really is quite an amazing service. Who knows if/when it will finally be approved in Vancouver, though I don’t think progress can be stopped. After all, one doesn’t see horse-and-buggies around so much. It’s very hard to stand in the way of superior technology…

  • Miranda says:

    This is such a clear and easy-to-understand run down of Uber. I have yet to use the service, but it seems like a great way to save cash. I once was ‘lost’ with a taxi driver in Mexico city – so I agree, I think sometimes you just get drivers who don’t know a part of town no matter what you take taxi or Uber. Great article Claudia!

  • Sarah Ebner says:

    We haven’t used it yet, though I know many people who have. I’m not sure how I feel, having read a lot of stuff about it and how it’s affecting the black cab industry in London. It’s great that you could get a taxi so quickly, but I would worry about them texting/not knowing where somewhere major was…

  • Mary says:

    Great information. I’ve never used Uber either as it just hasn’t presented itself for us yet but I am super excited at the idea around it. I think overall its a great thing for the economy. I had some questions about how it all worked so this was perfect for answering those! Thanks so much.

  • Robin says:

    I used it one time only, and it helped me get back to my hotel from a meeting in a neighborhood there were no taxis, so it was a lifesaver!

    • Claudia says:

      One of my Uber drivers in FLL used the service himself to get to school in the early morning, when he didn’t want to drive. It was a life-changer for him without a doubt. Cheers!

  • I love Uber! I’ve used it countless times at home in Chicago and while traveling in places like Boston and Philadelphia. I’m aware of the “bad” elements you’ve detailed, but it’s hard to beat the convenience of the smartphone app.

  • Tara Cannon says:

    I used Uber for the first time in FLL too Claudia ! While I did appreciate another service option, the texting was a little disconcerting . 🙂

  • I have to say that I’m an Uber convert. We use them all the time in Mexico City now – the cars are clean, the drivers courteous and we rarely have to wait long for an Uber to arrive. A lot of the drivers also happen to Uber-ing (?) between jobs, so I like that it provides some kind of job opportunity for people in need of work. The downside is that they don’t often take the best route – if you know where you’re going you can direct them but if it’s a new part of town then you’re stuck!

    • Claudia says:

      It really is revolutionary. Thanks very much for your comments, Katja! (BTW, the Spectre movie has me crushing on Mexico City. Must arrange a visit asap!)

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