Uber uber alles

Friendly drivers, comfortable vehicles, and gaspingly low fares.  What's not to love about Uber?
Friendly drivers, comfortable vehicles, and gaspingly low fares. What’s not to love about Uber?

To my embarrassment, I had not experienced an Uber ride until this last weekend.  I’d been unfortunate in the choice of places I needed cab rides, and it was only in Silicon Valley that I finally managed to enjoy an Uber ride.

But, I only half managed to enjoy it, although that made the experience all the more valuable.  The San Jose Airport has placed so many restrictions on Uber that its drivers shun the airport for picking up passengers, although they’ll happily take you there and drop you off.

So I took a regular cab ride from the airport to Palo Alto.  It was a very typical US cab experience – a typical aged Chevy cab, with typical spongy soft suspension, similarly spongy soft seating, re-upholstered with some sort of dirty grey fabric designed (but failing) to hide the dirt, and an uncertain but unpleasant smell hovering in the background.

The driver was also typical, semi-safe and slightly scary in his driving, and as is usually the case, one had no way of knowing if the journey was direct and fair, or roundabout and a rip-off.  Upon arriving in Palo Alto, I paid $67 ($58.50 plus tip) for the experience – only a small amount less than the one way airfare from Seattle to San Jose!

For the return to the airport, it was like moving to a different planet.  I pulled out my cell phone, fired up the Uber app, immediately saw three or four cars close to where I was, told Uber I wanted to go to the airport, and was given the make/model, color, and registration of the car that would collect me, the driver’s name, and then got to watch on the map as the car’s icon steadily approached.

As promised, the car was there within three minutes.  I stepped into – not a generic Chevy, but a less than one year old Toyota Prius, and rather than being in faded greyish colors, it was in pristine white, and perfectly clean.  Any sort of commercial for-hire driver that chooses a white interior (the driver proudly told me he specially bought the car for his Uber work) is clearly a very ‘car-proud’ person planning on taking great care of his vehicle!

The personable driver took me to the airport, and I was able to watch his route on his own phone screen as we proceeded there.  Upon arrival, after a pleasant ride in a pleasant car with a pleasant driver, I simply thanked him, and left the vehicle – Uber automatically billed my credit card.

Oh yes – the best thing of all?  I knew Uber was a bit cheaper, so was hoping that instead of the $67 fare to Palo Alto, I might get away with no more than $50 or so.  The actual total charge (tip included)?  $20.79.

Yes, less than one third the cost of the regular taxi for a very much nicer ride.  And whereas most taxi drivers seem anything but happy, the Uber driver was thrilled with his work for Uber, and not complaining at all at the lower fare (and whatever his ultimate share would end up as) that he got for the ride.

This was the most stunning contrast in experiences possible.  Imagine if, instead of paying $1000+ for a squashed coach class seat across the Atlantic, an airline sprung up that sold flights for $300, with business class service and seating!  It is the same transformative experience, on the ground, with the taxicab industry.

So why is any council or other regulatory body doing anything other than desperately pleading with Uber to bring service to its district as urgently soon as possible?  Why?  Aren’t these bodies charged with serving the public and enhancing our access to the best of services out there?

Do we still have local councils insisting we ride in horsedrawn buggies?  Are we restricted to dial-up modem access at 56kb to the internet?  Are we forbidden from buying automatic washing machines?  Is Amazon prevented from selling and delivering goods to our houses?

Why have all these other improvements and evolutions in products and services been generally permitted, but Uber not?

It is hard to avoid smelling a strong stench of corruption wafting out of city halls when we hear of their opposition to Uber and the specious claims of concerns over our safety.

Who among us owes overpriced bad service taxi companies anything?  They need to evolve, improve, or perish, and if they don’t or won’t, they deserve to go the way of all the other technologies, products and services that have similarly been obsoleted by progress and improvements.

Uber – highly recommended.  Don’t leave home without them.

6 thoughts on “Uber uber alles”

  1. Yes I use Uber and have for a long time. In DC, where I live, Uber Black is pretty consistently good tho the expected services (getting out, opening doors, driving safely, not taking circuitous routes) is not. UberX, which I’m guessing you took, is inconsistent & I won’t take it.

    What’s missing is better treatment of and benefits for – and training – of drivers. I thought, a few weeks ago, that I was having a “heart incident.” DC EMT is horrific so I contacted uber. I explained to the driver whose eyes broadened tho he didn’t show panic otherwise. I asked how they were trained to deal with a sick passenger – or even a death in their cars. (I talked to calm myself & him!) They are not.

    I survived, he was great and caring, & I love uber too …and will more when they do better.

    1. Hi, Joan

      So glad that your ‘incident’ wasn’t anything major!

      I wonder how well trained a regular taxi driver is with an unwell passenger. Probably not at all. I think we have to be careful to guard against the creep of ‘featuritis’ – a basic inexpensive form of transportation should be allowed to exist with optional extras based on what the market wants, rather than foisted on all of us, all the time, whether we want it or not.

      Yes, I used the ‘basic’ UberX, and it was brilliant. There’s nothing it didn’t offer/include that I’d want to pay more for.

      Uber instead of an ambulance? My goodness me!

  2. I actually prefer Lyft, which has virtually the same business model as Uber, but can be slightly cheaper. Some drivers work for both services.

    Traditional taxi companies should pick up on the real advantage of Uber/Lyft, which is the app that summons the car, predetermines the route/rate and handles the payment. This works around the most contentious part of using metered taxis where drivers may not understand where you are going or intentionally try to rip you off. The latter is probably a real source of their income.

  3. I have had the same experience. Rather than renting a car for a trip to Silicon Valley via SFO, I used Uber. $45 to Sunnyvale and then ~$15 per day round trip between my AirBnB lodging to where I was working. Vehicles were all clean and drivers were very courteous.

  4. David-

    Excellent piece on Uber, and you nailed it when talking about the whiff of corruption. It was actually entertaining to watch (almost always Democrat) politicians get themselves on the wrong side of this trend around the country, because they were reacting to taxi lobbyists first, without doing any research. I watched a clip of a Broward County (FL) Supervisor’s meeting on the news last October during which the County Board 100% reversed themselves from a decision three months earlier, in which they had placed very onerous rules on Uber and Lyft, leading the services to declare that they would be dropping service in the county. One supervisor held up her cellphone and declared that she had been inundated with furious calls from constituents both young and old, and had now “seen the light” and would reverse her earlier position. The news clip ended with an indignant lobbyist for the taxi industry screaming at the Supervisors that “we had a deal!” Great stuff.

    Incidentally, Lyft is slightly more prevalent in west coast markets in my experience, while Uber is more dominant south and east. My experience has been pretty good with both services. Lyft has a tip screen that pops up at the end of the ride, while Uber does not, but I have found that Uber is more likely to have surge pricing during very busy times, so it pays to get to know both services and have both on your phone, ready to go. For example, I had an unacceptable pickup wait time from Lyft in Miami last year, while Uber had a driver literally just around the corner, so I cancelled the Lyft driver and switched to Uber, saving at least 15 minutes. I really don’t have a preference at this point, I use them both equally.

    Here’s an example of using Lyft/Uber that has made a difference; my office is just 5 minutes from the Minneapolis airport, so it saves me lots of money to park my car in our lot and just Uber/Lyft from the airport when I return after being gone for more than two days. The taxis have to queue at an offsite lot, and can wait 3-4 hours in line for the opportunity to pick up a fare. If they wait that long, and then get a five-minute fare, they are clearly upset at the $15.00 or so fare, so I have over-tipped them in the past. But with Lyft (which I used last night), the driver didn’t have to wait in any queue, and the fare was $14.00. It was faster and less expensive, and the driver was back picking up other riders immediately. It seems unfair to the taxi drivers, who are operating under a legacy system, but that’s the whole point; Uber/Lyft are disruptive technologies that are exposing an inefficient industry.

    I used Lyft out of John Wayne last Wednesday; that airport decided to simply put a $2.25 per ride surcharge on any pickup at the airport, which I’m fine with. I expect most airports will eventually adopt a similar model as a compromise with the services. I hope that the airport authorities don’t squeeze the innovative life out of the services by placing so many restrictions and fees on Uber/Lyft that they bring the experience down to a taxi experience. But I don’t think it’s possible. Here’s a link to an interesting article in the LA Times in which the Orange County Supervisors approved an operating permit for ride-sharing companies. The Chairman’s comments are revealing:

    “Uber is becoming a mega, billion-dollar corporation,” (Chairman Todd) Spitzer said. “This whole concept is resonating with people worldwide. I’m not about to get in the way.”


    Uber/Lyft have changed some of my travel habits. I now decide whether I really need a rental car at my destination; not only is there the cost of the car, but parking is very expensive at some hotels. Then there is the pickup and return time at each end. I really need to see the value proposition or actual need to rent a car now.

    I could go on and on with examples of the advantages, but I’ve gone on long enough. I think your readers will appreciate more on Uber/Lyft going forward.

  5. The problem I have with Uber and Lyft is that I deal in cash only for my taxi rides and I need a handwritten paper receipt and I understand that cash is not an option with Uber or Lyft.

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