If you’ve ever been stuck trying to hail a cab without any luck, you’ve probably wished for a magic wand to make a ride appear. Uber is your magic wand.
Uber is like having your own private car and driver, you’ll feel like a celebrity when you summon an Uber car to pick you up and take you to your intended destination. But Uber isn’t a car service. It’s a tech company that organizes car services in cities and sends cars to its customers within a few minutes of a request. Uber has teamed with existing car service companies in major cities and acts as a high-tech dispatch service.
Yesterday, I met with Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber, in anticipation of today’s launch of Uber in Philadelphia. He explained his service by saying, ” We’re a technology company. Our service is bits and asphalt and we partner on the asphalt. Our motto is ‘Everyone’s Private Driver.'”
People mostly start using Uber on the weekends. “They want date night to go well. Or they’re going out with friends and they want to go in style. They get used to pushing that button and then it starts to bleed into the weekdays, said Kalanick. “The weekend is the sizzle for the weekday steak.”
You use Uber from your cell phone, either from an app or by sending a text message. You must register for an account, including providing a credit card number and your billing address (with the app you can scan your credit card, if you quake at the thought of typing a long credit card number using a smartphone keyboard). Multiple credit cards can be saved to your account if you want to use Uber for both business and pleasure.
If you have an iPhone or Android phone, you can download an Uber app that you can use to summon a car. Open the app and you’re shown a map with your location and the location of the closest cars with an estimated time of arrival. When you order a car, Uber dispatches the nearest driver and sends you a text message with the first name of the driver, his rating (more on that later) and how long until he arrives. You can track the car on the map as it approaches and call the driver from within the app if you’re having trouble locating each other.
If you don’t have an iPhone or an Android phone, you can still use Uber by sending a text message to 827-222 (UBR-CAB), in the US and Canada, requesting a car and giving your pickup location.
Uber’s cars are large luxury cars, such as Cadillac Escalades or Lincoln Town Cars. According to Kalanick, their drivers are dressed professionally and the cars are kept clean. The ride is designed to be comfortable and quiet so you can relax or be productive and get work done.
After you arrive at your destination, Uber automatically charges your credit card for the fare plus a tip. No money changes hands nor is a credit card swiped. You just get out of the car and continue on your merry way. It’s easy to get spoiled by such luxury. “When I’m traveling in a city where we haven’t launched Uber yet, I’ll sometimes start to get out of a cab forgetting to pay,” said Kalanick.
Uber emails you a receipt for the ride plus the app gives you an opportunity to rate the driver and leave a comment. Drivers rate passengers as well, so make sure to be on your best behavior.
Prices and Coverage
As with many services, convenience and luxury come at a premium. Uber’s service is more expensive than a cab fare. Each city has its own fare schedule, available on Uber’s website. The minimum fare is $15 and the base fare is $7.00. Uber charges per mile with speeds over 11 mph and per minute at speeds below 11 mph. Uber also offers flat rates between certain destinations. At times of “intense demand,” Uber’s rates can change to ensure availability.
Areas covered by Uber include central urban locations and airports. If you’re picked up in an area covered by Uber, you can go anywhere, including outside Uber’s coverage area. Kalanick gave the example of one passenger who took an Uber car from New York City to Washington, DC. “He opened the app, pushed the button, the car came and he went to DC.”
Uber’s website shows coverage maps and the app will let you know if you are in an area covered by Uber.
Currently Uber is in:
- Los Angeles
- New York City
- Philadelphia (as of today)
- San Francisco
- Washington, DC
with plans to expand to San Diego and Vancouver shortly. Uber also plans to have service for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions this Summer.
If you’re traveling in a city that has Uber service, you can use the app in the same way you use it in your home city. For example, if you have a trip to Paris coming up, don’t worry about getting stuck in a long taxi line at Charles de Gaulle airport when you arrive. Use the Uber app when you land and have your car waiting for you.
I tested the service at Uber’s expense for travel between my suburban home and Philadelphia for my interview with Kalanick. Since my house is outside the coverage area, Uber arranged for a driver to be close by at the arranged pickup time. I opened the Uber app and saw that an Uber car was one minute away. I summoned the car and Uber driver Raj Patwal arrived quickly. I had a chance to chat with Patwal on my trip into Philadelphia and learned that he is very pleased with Uber and how it treats its drivers.
Patwal pointed out an advantage of using the service is if you’re in an office building or an apartment building, you can order a car and have it waiting for you by the time you get to the lobby. No waiting in the rain or in the dark trying to hail a cab.
He also said it was handy for passengers who left their cell phones behind that they had a record of which driver they used so they could be reunited with their phones. Patwal gave me an example of a time when a passenger left an iPad in his car and he used his personal car to drive two hours to the man’s house to return the iPad. It’s no wonder Patwal has been rated 4.9 stars by his passengers.
If you’re stuck for a ride or want to travel in style, check out Uber. Be careful though. It’s very easy to get spoiled.
Have you ever struggled to find a cab? Did you ever wish you could have a private driver? Let us know in the Comments section below!