Apr 3 2014
Uber has been in Sydney for a year now, and I really like it (Although it has not quite changed my life, like it has others‘). Let me explain why:
I live in Bondi, a beach suburb of Sydney. In my experience cabs in Sydney were not very user friendly in the past. The cab licensing was highly restricted with licence plates going for several hundred thousand dollars. Drivers were not well rewarded and often lacked the knowledge required for a good passenger experience. Payments were monopolized by cabcharge, which at one stage added 10% automatically to any bill paid not in cash. Cabs in Bondi were hard to get: calling a cab to my home was unsuccessful more often than not. Cabs just didn’t turn up, there was no way to find out if one was on the way, phone lines to the booking centre were usually busy and it was not a rarity to spend 20 minutes on the phone just trying to find out if a cab had been despatched.
There are a lot of hire cars and limos in Sydney, but they are not easily accessible to private clients, they can’t be waved down on the street and they are expensive.
On weekend evenings in the city outside of busy night spots cabs wait and look for attractive fares. They ask before they let you in, and if you don’t live far away you won’t get taken. I walked home many times from the city because there was no cab willing to take me for the 20 minute trip.
So, I don’t use cabs very often, and when I did or tried to, it was almost always a frustrating experience.
Uber (Story of Uber’s foundation and growth) has the potential to change that and has certainly made a difference to me.
Calling a car via the Uber app gives instant feedback about who has accepted the job and how far he/she is away. You also get the driver’s contact number, so if there is anything to discuss or clarify, you can. Uber drivers have to accept any destination, so you always get a ride. All payments are made by pre-registered credit card, the transaction happens automatically as soon as the job is closed, the bill is emailed to you immediately. The direct connection and the fact that Uber drivers are rated by their passengers result in a different relationship between driver and passenger, much better in my experience. Not only drivers are rated, so are clients, I understand that if a client has a bad rating, their success when calling a car will be limited.
Uber does put a booking charge on every fare, nowhere near as much as the ten percent I had paid previously for cabcharge. However, Uber uses surge charging in busy times, for which the company has been criticised.
For me Uber has made taking a cab much easier and reliable. I can understand that they are often seen as the first step towards a better personal transportation: If I was able to combine this system with driverless cars, could I live without my car, just calling one from the pool of cars as I need it? If you have experienced Sydney’s traffic you’ll understand the attraction. Uber also has started a low cost car sharing option, Uber-X, which enables anybody to make money and offer a ride via their platform. This service is more disruptive than just organising cabs and limos through an app, it gives anybody the opportunity to work as a driver. There are insurance issues to be solved, and there is massive resistance of the established industry all over the world, but the opening up of the market has many positive effects and has drastically changed personal transport.
And to continue dreaming: could cars park (themselves) somewhere else than in our city streets (Carless cities?) and make cities less car dominated, more human liveable if there was personal transportation on demand?