By Steve W
For those who aren’t aware of what Uber is, it’s billed as “Everone’s Private Driver”. It’s a taxi service of sorts, but as Uber is not a member of a recognised ATO (Approved Taxi Organisation) liked Combined and Kiwi Cabs et al, it’s instead running as a Private Hire Service in a similar way to those stretch limos that cruise Courtenay Place full of intoxicated hens and stag parties on Saturday nights.
The company started in San Francisco back in 2010 and has gradually spread all over America and now… the World! It’s huge in China according to the driver I had.
Google has invested just over ¼ billion US$ into the company, so Mr Page seems to think that they’re onto a good thing.
People who want to be an Uber driver need to apply to Uber, then pass a “fit and proper person” check and obtain the P (Passenger class) certification on their license.
I used the service yesterday as I’d already signed up for notifications of new launches, and it went something like this;
Download and install the app on my phone, then login with the credentials I’d signed up with on the website. You do need to log a credit card with them during the process as this is how you pay for the ride, you do not pay the driver directly which means no rummaging for money at the end of the trip.
Opened the app, it worked out where I was standing and invited me to move the pointer to exactly where I’d like to be collected from. I could see little pictures of cars moving around the map which represented the Uber drivers in the area. The app told me that a driver was available and the ETA was 1 minute.
I moved the pointer to an appropriate location and pressed the “Collect me” button, then proceeded to watch the nearest car image on my screen start heading towards me. The display popped up telling me that Michael would be arriving very shortly in a Toyota Camry, and could I please enter my intended destination. About 20 seconds later, said car arrived, Michael asked if I was me, then I hopped into the car and off we headed.
It turned out that I was his first Uber pickup as well, so it was a 2-cherries for the price of 1 deal.
We had a good chat as he drove me home. It turned out that he used to be a “regular” taxi driver and had jumped ship, so the car was already kitted out with a few accoutrements.
Given that I’d manage to jump onto a “Secret” promotion, the ride was free, but Michael was able to tell me that the ride would usually have been $15. The cheapest taxi ride I’ve ever had over a similar time\distance was just over $20. This was at 6pm on a workday.
The pricing was $1.50 base (similar to “Flagfall” for regular taxis), plus $1.85 per kilometre, plus 50c per minute, this means that a 5Km trip that takes 10 minutes is $1.50 + $9.25 + $5 = $15.75 which is then rounded down to the nearest whole dollar, so $15 total.
Given that there isn’t much in the way of a governing body, who oversees the drivers? Well, in this age of social media, you do. At the end of a journey, the passenger rates the driver out of 5 stars and can also leave comments as to the quality of the service provided. If a driver receives a high enough number of lower ratings, then they will receive warnings from Uber and eventually their Uber “license” will be revoked.
The obvious advantages of Uber to me are;
- No trying to explain the details of where you want to go to\from to the person at the other end of the phone who can’t hear you because of the drunken schmuck shouting beside you.
- No walking to the ATM in the rain to get money to pay the driver, or mucking about with the card at the end of the trip and paying the extra fees.
- No airport surcharges!
- Cheaper than a “regular” Taxi.
- Near real-time feedback on the quality of the driver and their vehicle.
- You can get an estimated cost from the application before your trip so you know roughly what the final cost will be with only the time taken being the variable factor. Given that payment happens behind the scenes this is possibly less useful than it might otherwise be.
- No adherence to any governing body beyond the Uber company themselves leaves them in a bit of a limbo with regards to regulation. Most (all?) Taxis operated locally have cameras installed in them these days to protect both the driver and passenger, Uber vehicles have no such requirements.
- It undercuts the incumbent taxi companies. This is also known as “more competition”. I find it hard to feel sad for the companies given how long they’ve been fleecing both us and their employees.
Uber offers various different levels of service, but only their standard “UberX” service is currently available in NZ. The original service, “Uber”, which is the “high end” offering, requires drivers to have an associated “higher-end” vehicle like a late model BMW or the like, and is in line with their initial “personal-driver” ethos, UberX opened it up to the masses and is the standard service for regular folks. They also offer UberBlack, UberLux and others but they also are not currently available in NZ, unfortunately neither is their ride-sharing service which is essentially car-pooling by proxy.
I’ve since used the service another couple of times and find it to be brilliant, but my 3rd trip shows that the system, as per regular taxis, is still no guarantee that your driver may not be a little “odd”. I’ve never seen that many devices attached to a dashboard before…
Of the 3 drivers, 2 are also currently “regular” taxi drivers, and the 3rd is an ex airport shuttle driver.
Oh, and if you want a $10 discount on your first Uber trip, then the link https://www.uber.com/invite/
For Android users who want the Uber app go here
While Apple users can go here
And if you’re one of *those* people who has a Windows Phone, I’m lead to believe you can go here