The past couple weeks, I have used Uber in Charlotte (NC) and yesterday in Greensboro. I now see a very real possibility of getting rid of my automobile (less than 2000 miles on it last year). It seems like a win win win arrangement all around, unless you are a conventional taxi driver or a city employee who regulates taxi drivers.
Here is how Uber works. I would encourage you to try it even if you don’t need it today. To use uber, you need a smart phone. You create an uber account and tie it to a credit card which is used to pay for rides. You upload a picture of yourself to the app so the driver knows who he is picking up. The driver knows who you are and you know who the driver is.
When you need to go somewhere, you start the app – GPS knows where you are. You can choose your destination to simplify the process. You click Send Uber and like magic, a car shows up where you are standing. On average, it has been about 5 minutes. Unlike a taxi, there is no doubt the ride will show up. You are given a picture of the driver, his/her first name, the type of car and the license plate #. As they arrive, your phone vibrates.
The driver has an app running, knows your name, has a picture and knows where you want to go. Turn by turn navigation means the driver doesn’t need to know a thing about getting around.
When you arrive at the destination, the driver clicks trip complete. The uber app has logged the route and timed the trip, so there is no funny business. The one huge issue is don’t plan to use uber for major events like sporting events or going to Times Square on New Years Eve. If uber demand exceeds supply, the sky is the limit for how much it will cost. Surge pricing doesn’t react immediately. Drivers will be attracted to the baseball game when it lets out, but it takes time to work off the backlog. Stop for a beer after the game and the price will drop back down.
When the ride is complete, your credit/debit card is immediately charged. You get a receipt for the trip. There is no tipping and no cash changes hands. The driver never sees or handles your credit card. This particular ride cost $8.17.
The only thing left to do is rate the driver from 1-5 stars. That’s how uber washes out the bad drivers. Drivers also rate you. If you’re drunk, smell like feces, angry and vomit in the back seat, you’ll be dropped as a customer. The requirement to have a credit card also acts as a filter.
Drivers seem very cooperative with the idea of helping you with groceries and such things. They know many of their passengers have vision or mobility issues. You are paying them mileage plus time, so for a relatively small charge to keep the meter running, they’ll be glad to help. Want the uber driver to repaint your porch deck? Maybe you can work out a deal 😉
TV and movies have decades invested in scaring Americans into being afraid of each other. I have no fear of uber and every driver has enjoyed having a social conversation.
One down side that is unavoidable is the issue of getting a ride in a bad neighborhood. When you call for an uber, the computer matches a nearby driver who sees where you are, your picture and your ride history. If your picture shows a 20 year old black man in gang dress smoking a joint, you may have trouble getting a ride in South Chicago.
Drivers can reject a proposed passenger (and passengers can turn down a driver), but patterns of behavior indicating a racial bias will get you kicked out of the club eventually. Kaleem used to drive a cab in New York City. He struggles a little with English, but he is now motivated to get better. If he just grunts and talks to friends on his cell phone in Punjab, he’s going to get 1 star and no longer drive for uber.