A beginners guide to Uber, by a beginner…
Uber. It’s become a byword for digital disruption, but it’s practicality and efficiency for occasional users that it should be better known for… Here’s a beginners guide to Uber.
TAXI DRIVERS all over the world are up in arms over the infiltration of Uber onto their turf. And, reasonably rightly so. See, taxi drivers, like the average community pharmacist have been a protected small business species for a very long time.
But how many times have you called to book a taxi, or tried to use an app to book a taxi and either not have it turn up at the time you pre-booked it for or, sometimes, just not turn up at all. Sure, you get a booking number and you can call the taxi service when the cab you booked hasn’t shown up after an hour of waiting, only to be told there aren’t any taxis in your area.
Now, in my line of work I get to spend more time in the back of taxis than most people, and that’s because when I return one test car I’ve usually got to get to the other side of town to collect another (don’t feel sorry for me). And this means I get to spend a lot of time waiting around. And then, if the taxi eventually shows up, or, if I haven’t given up and waved one down driving down the road, then I’ve got to endure the taxi driving style that they all must learn when they get their taxi licence.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the on-off driving style of the taxi driver, while they continue talking on one of the half-dozen phones they have stashed in their lap or the centre console. But it wasn’t the rubbish driving style, or the multiple phones, or the fact that every taxi I climb into feels like it’s just come from a smash-up derby with shuddering brakes and shot suspension. Nope, it was the fact that one sunny afternoon after I’d just paid for a taxi that my faith in taxis was lost forever…
The driver stole my credit card details and sold them to a crime syndicate – it was proved. And within the space of 12 hours a staggering $8000 of my money was spent before ANZ’s Falcon woke up and swooped on the crooks… it must have been the $1000 spent on make-up that tipped off the bird.
And that’s how I come to be standing by the side of the road waiting for my first Uber ride. I won’t say I’m not nervous, and that’s not just because the media has been littered with horror stories about Uber drivers, but because I’m about to do something my parents told me never to do and that is hop into a car with a stranger.
Only my Uber driver isn’t a stranger. Well, sort of. I mean, he’s less of a stranger than the taxi driver that rocks up outside your door. You hope that in both cases the drivers have been vetted to ensure they’re fit to drive a car and not try and murder their passenger, and that they actually know where they’re going when you give them a direction, that they actually have “the knowledge”.
But I don’t want this article to become a taxi-bashing, Uber-loving rant. Rather, I want it to be a guide for anyone else contemplating trying a ride-sharing service.
So, to start with you’ll need to download the Uber app and you can do this via your favourite app store. Then, once you’ve input your details and your credit card number for automatic payment, you’re away. Well, you will be once you’ve input the four digit pass key Uber sends you to activate your account.
With that done you then select your collection location. Once you’ve done that you’ll see a map of your immediate vicinity and the Uber cars floating around near you, which is kind of cool. Then, once you select the type of Uber vehicle you want to ride in: UberX, Uber Taxi or Uber Black you can then set your destination, view a fare estimate and then hit GO. In Sydney, Uber users can request licensed taxis (UberTaxi), licensed hire cars (UberBlack, UberSUV and UberLux) and private vehicles through uberX. In other Australian cities, Uber offers one or both of uberX and UberBlack.
I was in Mascot, Sydney when I booked my UberX car but not at the airport and it took just one minute for the nearest UberX driver to respond (Uber gives its closest driver a time window to answer the job before offering it to the next nearest, and so on). When he did, he “was just at the Bunnings down the road when I got your job”, I could see a photo of him, his name, the type of car he’d be arriving in and his licence plate details. You don’t get that level of detail when you book a taxi.
I’ve hitchhiked once before when my car broke down in the country and I wasn’t as nervous then as I was getting into that UberX car. But I shouldn’t have been. The Toyota Camry Hybrid I climbed into was spotless, I mean, it was cleaner than my car was when it was new. And it ran like a top. And the driver was well dressed and friendly. And, besides, all potential Uber drivers have to undergo a criminal history check and a driver history check, and the car needs to have four doors and must be less than 10 years old.
My driver was a bit younger than me and told me I was his seventh Uber job. Working for Uber is a once-in-a-bluemoon gig for him, but he likes how easy and organised the process is. He can do as much or as little driving as he chooses; his regular job is laying cable for the NBN and, on his day off, he may or may not take an Uber job. He’s also into football, proper football, so we had plenty to chat about… we didn’t talk once about politics.
There’s a rating system for passengers to rate the service they’ve received which is a way of telling Uber whether it should have a quiet word with its driver… You don’t get that opportunity when you ride in a taxi. But the rating system works in reverse too, meaning the driver can rate you as the passenger and because you’ve got a profile on Uber, any Uber driver will be able to tell if you’re a one-star or five-star passenger.
And if you’re one of those people who likes your friends, partner or parents to know where you are… especially when you’v just climbed into the car with a stranger than you can always share your journey so that they can track your progress. But then, you can also do that using an app like Life360, which is excellent and also features a panic function.
So, am I a convert to Uber? Yes, I think I am. Sure, it’s got its issues in that surge pricing can sometimes apply, but you can always choose not to use Uber in that situation. And, if, like me you live in NSW, you’ve got to be in Sydney to use the service… I had a look for drivers in my area and there was none. Maybe I could moonlight.
I don’t think Uber will replace taxis anytime soon, because, as I’ve said, Uber at the moment is confined to major capital cities. But, going forward, well, who knows. Taxi operators could take a leaf out of Ubers book… customer service is key to running a successful business in this day and age and the ability to rate your driver, or the quality of their vehicle is an excellent idea that would possibly see a lot of rubbish taxis and drivers dumped.
Oh, and the fare? And for me, with my Scottish heritage, this might just be the icing on the cake, the fare to ride with Uber was almost $30 cheaper on the equivalent journey when compared with a taxi service. And I know that because I’d taken that same journey in a taxi driver the week before. Interestingly though, the fare was at the top of the fare estimate and I put that down to the fact my driver overshot the exit and had to backtrack a few kilometres. It was an accident so I wasn’t fussed.
One of the cool things about Uber is that at the end of your trip you get an invoice showing the cost of the trip and the various components the price includes. This means you should, if using Uber in the course of your job, be able to claim the travel at tax time; but this is a question I’ll have to put to my accountant.
What about surge pricing? I don’t know. But after a quick wander around the Internet and the Uber website I noticed the app includes functionality that would notify you if surge pricing was ending so that you could either wait to book a car, or go ahead and pay a higher price. This issue around surge pricing is obviously one of the big criticisms of Uber and I get that but, hey, I’ve got two kids and live in the middle of nowhere so surge pricing is hardly going to affect me…
Now I know there’s a vast difference to a member of the public sharing their car on an occasional journey and a taxi driver who’s hack is pressed into service 24 hours a day and probably seven days a week, and has insurance and taxi council fees to pay, but for occasional use Uber is a clear winner, but that’s just my opinion.
The below table is the cost of a hire car licence around the country, the below is listed because while UberX is often compared with taxi services, it’s more like a hire car service.
|State||Availability||Licence Fee||Vehicle type|
Uber isn’t available everywhere in Australia, and even where it is available, registered taxis are the only ones able to use the rank and hail system.
In New South Wales, Uber was regulated late last year (December 2015) with around $200 million in compensation to taxi and hire car plate owners and operators.
In Queensland, Uber drivers operate but they face fines of up to $2356 due to the Katter’s Australian Party’s private member’s Bill. The Taxi Council of Queensland is particularly strong and has lobbied hard to keep Uber illegal in that state.
In Victoria, the Taxi Services Commission has actively discouraged members of the public from using the ride-sharing app with Uber drivers there hit with fines. Recently, however, a fine was overturned on appeal and some are saying that this ruling affectively legalises Uber in Victoria. It doesn’t.
In the Northern Territory, there’s no ruling one way or the other, and the same goes for Tasmania.
In Western Australia, Uber drivers are required to have an omnibus licence which is the same as limousine drivers in that state. The decision has been supported by the Taxi Industry Forum WA.
In South Australia, Uber will be allowed to operate from 1 July (2016). Compensation will be provided to taxi and hire car plate owners, and a $1 metropolitan ride levy will be applied to all Uber journeys in South Australia.
Not a beginner
Someone who isn’t new to Uber is our very own, Robert Pepper, and he sent me this note after a quick read through of this article.
“I prefer Uber over taxis. It’s usually cheaper, and always a lot easier. I can be at home, start up the app and see exactly how long it’ll take before I’m picked up… never do I need to hear that dismissive “first available” from a cab operator.
“Once I’m in the car the driver knows where we’re going, and Google Maps does a great job of directing.
“The drivers are as good as taxi drivers, if not better, and largely more professional, less surly. Probably because they don’t drive as much. I think overall, they’re more interesting to chat to and believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time in taxis.
“Once I arrive at the destination I just jump out, payment is taken care of, and I’m away…as I’m usually late that’s perfect for me.
“The only real disadvantage of Uber is surge pricing, where prices increase due to demand outstripping supply.
“I very rarely use taxis now. Why would you?”
Let me know if you’ve ever used Uber and what you thought of the service, would you pick it over a taxi? See you in the comments.