2nd September 2015 by Jason Vincent
A day with Uber
I’ve known about Uber for a while. I’ve frequently read about it in the media (almost always focusing on the negatives) but never actually thought to try it out for myself.
A few months ago I was introduced to it by a friend… and then a client… and then another friend. To the point where this wasn’t just some rebellious product being used by the stingy few, but it was clear that it was rapidly gaining adoption by just about everyone I knew. I had to try it.
From the moment I did, I’ve been addicted. Suddenly, a late night tube journey could become a comfortable ride home, for only an extra few pounds. An hour long trip involving multiple tube changes and a 20 minute walk can easily be done in 30 minutes. It really changes urban transport for the average joe.
I’m not going to delve into the details of the outrage and public outcry surrounding it, but will simply provide a simple example of my experience with it recently in London. A late night dinner in West London (Shepherd’s Bush Market) finished past 11pm. The weather wasn’t great, and the prospect of walking to the station, changing multiple times and then walking home was enough to dampen the mood of the evening. Instead, I opened Uber and requested an UberX. It was there within 5 minutes. I was home within 30. The trip cost me under £15.
A few weeks later, my trusted iPhone 6 had run out of battery, so I resorted to a black cab from Piccadilly Circus. I jumped in thinking, it’s not that far, how bad can it be? 15 minutes later, I was £27 poorer, and the sour taste in my mouth didn’t go away easily.
This isn’t about exploiting drivers – it’s a simple question of supply and demand. Yes, black cab drivers have been earning £60k + for decades… but they have experienced negligible innovation in that time, and in my opinion it’s time for a change. Unless cabs are designed purely for those earning in the upper income bracket, or for business use, they simply do not work for the average Londoner or even for the average tourist! And the Uber business model isn’t paying drivers terribly – if you can earn £20 or £30 an hour as a driver, that’s more than a substantial number of other respectable professions in London – why should that be seen as unreasonable?
The even scarier realisation came today, whilst visiting Brussels for work. I arrived to the hotel and needed to pick some items up from the town centre. I’d already walked there once, and it was now raining so I went to reception to order a taxi. However, it suddenly struck me that *maybe* Uber works in Brussels… I opened up the app. There was a driver 5 minutes away. I requested a pickup.
When the driver arrived I jumped in the back, and he seemed incredibly agitated. He looked around and asked me to leave the car and get in the front. He then proceeded to tell me never to get in the back of an Uber in Brussels. And to never order one nearby other taxi drivers, or police officers… apparently they could get extremely violent. Here I was in a major European city, in the car with a driver trying to do his job, who was clearly terrified of the potential repercussions in doing so… that’s a shameful situation, and one that I’d never experienced, or expected to experience – particularly not in Belgium. He was incredibly friendly, took me to Place Louise in the centre, and the trip came to €4 (just as the app had predicted earlier). I didn’t have Euros on me, but it simply debited my credit card on my account.
On the way back, I decided to experiment and try a traditional taxi. I found a taxi rank, walked up to the next available car, and asked if they accepted card. He laughed, and said it depended how far I was going to go… I said don’t worry I’ll get some cash out, but he gestured for me to get in anyway. Suddenly, the usual ‘foreign country, cab fear’ took over. I had no idea how to get to where I was going… how much would this end up costing me? After circling around roads for over 15 minutes, we arrived. The cab fare was €11.10. He begrudgingly allowed me to pay by card, and I was on my way…
I’m not sure about anyone else, but I definitely know which experience I preferred. I also know which one I would be most likely to use frequently. By using Uber, I have full confidence that I won’t be over charged. I know I won’t get bad service. And I know I’ll be appreciated as a customer.
I think it’s now down to governments to support competition, and innovation, and to stand by companies like Uber rather than the conjecture how to destroy them and defend traditional taxi groups! We shouldn’t be banning solutions that simplify our lives, particularly those that break down barriers for creating new, flexible jobs.