I haven’t done a product endorsement here in awhile. Well, this is more of a service than a product, I suppose, but that’s a technicality. For various reasons, I’ve been using UBER for transportation since the end of January. Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Monday through Friday. And I effing love it! Uber is an alternative to cabs. Here’s how it works.
First, you need a smartphone and a credit card (or debit card). You download the free Uber app on your phone, set up a profile with your name and enter your credit card info, which gets saved. Then when you need a ride, you just turn on the phone and open the app. It has a built-in GPS which identifies where you are. You then enter the address of where you want to go, and set that as your destination. If you want you can check the fare and it will give you an estimate of how much it will cost. Never an exact charge, but it will give you a range of within a couple of dollars and, so far, it’s always been within that range.
For example, my daily trips are always two and from the same location, it’s a little over 4 miles, time in regular traffic is about 15 minutes, and it always says that the regular rate is $5-$8. For me it’s always six or seven something. It’s never exactly the same, which I can’t explain since the drive is always the same, but it just isn’t. Friday morning’s trip cost me $6.52, and Friday night’s trip cost me $7.08. Sometimes it can be as low as $6.02, or as high as $7.81, but with regular fare it’s never above $8, so it fits the estimate.
So once you’ve entered your destination, it contacts the driver who is closest to your location and sends them to come get you. The app shows a picture of the driver and of their car, with a license plate, along with their average customer rating (which I’ll explain in a minute), and lets you know how long it should take them to arrive. And the app shows you on a map the current location of the driver and you can watch in real time as it comes to you. When the driver arrives, you get in, the take you were you’re going, they have a GPS system which tells them how to get your destination (although you can direct them yourself if you know a better route). When you get to the you destination, you card is automatically charged. No money changes hands. It shows you the charge on the app, and it asks you to rate your driver, from one to five stars. You can also type in some comments if you want.
And Uber takes those ratings and comments seriously. My very first driver wasn’t very good. First, he had to stop off to get gas after he picked me up, which I thought was strange. And I wouldn’t listen to my directions, and took a longer route. Therefor my first rate was over $9. I rated him 3 stars and wrote about the gas-stop and route and a couple of hours later I got an email from Uber customer service, apologizing, saying that they studied the rate, and were crediting me three dollars off the charge, to reflect what the rate should have been. So that was great. And other than that, the vast majority of my drivers have been fine.
There are different services. Standard Uber is what is called Uber X. That means that you just get whatever car the nearest driver is in. So you can anything from a little volkswagon to a mini-van. That’s what costs the cheapest rate, and it’s what I always take. I’m a tall fellow with long legs, sometimes I’m scrunched up in a small backseat, but since it’s always just a quick trip, I can deal with it. If you’re a tall or big person, going on a long trip, you may want to try their service Uber XL, which guarantees you an SUV or Minivan, and that cost more. I selected that once by mistake, and my regular trip cost $16.23 (which, for the record, is still cheaper than a regular Taxi would have been). There’s also UberPlus, for a luxury sedan. That will cost even more.
Uber does have a policy of “surge charges” which means that there are times when the regular rate will be increased. This is due to high demand, or low drivers available at whatever time you’re attempting to use Uber. If such a charge is in effect, it will tell you as soon as you open the app. From what I understand, this tends to happen most on weekends late at night. I did get it once though 7:30am on a Wednesday, the was a surge charge of 1.2% on top of the regular rate. I hear it can go up to 3% sometimes.
I first heard about Uber back near the end of 2013, I had met my Godsister for lunch and she brought it up, saying it was a new thing, where people pick you up to drive you places. I didn’t think much of it at the time or ask more about it. And then last November a coworker came back from a vacation to Chicago and she was telling me how she and the friend she went with used Uber to get around. So I asked her how that worked, and she told me and it just kinda seemed strange to me. I was like, you’re just getting into some strangers car?!? I just didn’t get that.
And the first couple of weeks that I started using Uber, it still felt a little strange every time I got in a car. But, eventually I got used to it and started to wonder why I even questioned it in the first place. I mean, I’ve been in plenty of cabs, and that’s driven by a stranger, someone I don’t know. So how the heck is Uber any different? It’s not, it’s the same principle. I talked to one driver about the screening process, he said when you apply to Uber you through a criminal background check, credit check, and DMV check, plus you have to have your car checked by a mechanic (at the driver’s expense). Plus, the service seems safer in some ways, both for the driver and the riders, because everyone is on record. Each call shows who the driver is and who the customer is, and GPS tracks the route the driver takes, including the pick up and the stop. And since payment is done on the app, there’s no cash involved either, minimizing the chances of robbery.
I know the cab companies are running scared, and trying to pass extra regulations against Uber, and companies like it (for example, Uber is unable to pick up people at airports). And the media help by over-publicizing any crimes involving Uber drivers, making it seem like it happens so often. But Taxi drivers commit crimes too, that just doesn’t become national news. Nothing is perfect but, overall, I believe Uber is safer. And it’s just a better experience. Obviously, it will be different depending on where you are, since Uber isn’t available everywhere, but I’ve rarely had to wait more than 15 minutes (sometimes it’s been as quick as 2 minutes) to get picked up. Outside of driving yourself, Uber is a great way to travel. I highly recommend it.