I just got back from vacation (Florida. Great. Thanks.) and I discovered Uber. My first impression was a good one, and I found the whole experience better than taking a cab. You basically download an app and provide it with your credit card info, all of which takes a minute, then when you need a cab you call up the app and order one.
Only you don’t really get a cab, which is why this service is not permitted in many places. What you get is a person with a car, who has signed up to be a Uber driver.
How it works is when you start up Uber, it pops up a Google map of where you are, asks you for your location (which it pretty well knows anyway via GPS) and your destination. It also knows which driver is nearby and assigns one to you. You are told how much the trip is going to cost, and given a few options such as whether or not you are willing to share the ride in exchange for a price break. You are kept apprised of how long you have to wait for your ride and in fact shown the car moving on the map. You are told what kind of car to be on the lookout for, the driver’s first name, and the licence plate number.
When the countdown is less than a minute, you see the car pull up. You get in it, verify that you both are who you think, and off you go. When you arrive at your destination, you simply get out and your credit card gets debited the price it originally told you.
The cars we got were all fairly new (the low-end would be something like a recent model Toyota Corolla), the drivers friendly and knowledgeable, and you knew exactly how long you had to wait plus (if you had turned on data on your phone) you could see your trip’s progress on the map.
The only negative experience we had was one time someone else took our ride, and we had already paid for it. We ended up calling up another one, then contacted Uber who gave us a credit. I suspect the driver got a talking to as all this is tracked.
At first, we were a bit concerned about the issue of safety, but then when I think about it: the driver is known to the service, you are known to the service, the location is known, and whether or not the car reached its intended destination and via what route is tracked. Also, at the end of each trip, you are asked to rate your experience from 1 to 5, and if you say anything other than 5, you are asked to elaborate. So it sort of works like eBay in that sense. Not to say bad things can’t happen, and I’ve heard they have, but so do they with taxicabs.
When a request comes into a driver from Uber, they have 15 seconds to take it. Though that seems like a short time, they say it is ample, as most times they accept it. The drivers I talked to liked to do it. I did some quick math, however, and with the wear and tear on their car, gas, insurance, and Uber’s cut, I it’s hard to see how they can make much money at it.