When I was in New York City last week I had a chance to use a ride service called Uber. If you own a smartphone (iPhone or Android) and travel to one of the almost 20 cities where the Uber app works you should check it out. All you have to do is download the free app, and set up an account. The setup process is simple: you just create a login on their webpage, and provide them with your credit card, mobile phone number, and email address. That’s it.
When you’re in a city that has Uber it works like this:
- Open the app when you’re ready to get a ride (your location is then established)
- Press the button to request pickup from the nearest driver in the Uber system
- You’ll get a text message notifying you who you driver is (first name) and his rating based on past passenger’s assessments. The text message also tells you how many minutes away the driver is.
- You can watch the designated car making its way towards you on the city map in Uber’s app.
- As the driver approaches you get a text message saying the driver “is arriving now.” (these text messages are all automatically generated by the system, not the driver).
- When the driver arrives tell him where to go; he’ll probably have a separate GPS app next to his Uber iPhone.
- When you arrive the driver’s Uber’s app calculates the fare. You will be sent an email receipt (Uber already has your credit card).
- At the destination you can just walk away.
I used the service 3 times, and each time I asked the driver about Uber and whether they liked it. In each case they responded that they loved the service. All of the drivers had worked with cab dispatchers and said that they liked that the app was fair for them because it automatically assigned the ride based only on proximity of the driver to the ride. Obviously, riders want that too. But, apparently, that’s not always how it works when a dispatcher is involved.
Uber has faced lawsuits in some cities, including New York and Washington D.C., because cab companies are frightened by the ruthless efficiency of Uber’s technology. You can read about the lawsuits here, or here, but the bottom line is: for now the company can operate in New York City, and it seems to be making inroads in other cities. But Uber’s opponents aren’t going to give up easily.
City regulators, and their paid spokesmen/lobbyists, tend to make laughably lame arguments, such as that Uber is “a rogue app” and that they need to protect the public “because just about anyone could make a car-hailing app in their basement.”. Yeah, it used to be that two guys could build a computer in their garage, and look where that got us.
I could drone on an on about why Uber is amazingly useful. I didn’t leave anything in the cars, but if I had I could have immediately called or texted the driver since I was given his mobile phone number automatically when I used the service. Putting drivers and customers in direct contact via their mobile phones is one reason the Uber app has hundreds of 5 star ratings in the Apple app store. Clearly, most users love it, and if you try it you probably will too. The only people who seem not to like Uber are those whose business model depends on stifiling innovation in the car-hailing business.
For more information about how it works in various cities check this FAQ page.