We were going out for our Tuesday date night for dinner and then going to Eric’s movie showing, so we figured we’d have too many drinks tonight for driving, so we decided to use a taxi. While waiting for Gay to get ready, I remembered that Uber launched in Seattle a couple weeks ago, so we decided to give it a try.
I launched their iPhone app and it showed my location on a map with the usual iPhone blue dot. It also shows the location of all the Uber cars so I saw that they have 5 cars in the city (4 in Seattle, 1 in Bellevue) right now. I set my location (the app was slightly off with my address) and it said a car could be there in 12 minutes. I hit the Request Pick-up button and a couple minutes later got an alert on my iPhone that the car would be there in 5 minutes. A few minutes later, I got another alert that the car is arriving, so I walked out the front door, looked down the street and there was a black Town Car. That was a lot easier than calling for a taxi to come to our house! Why haven’t any taxi services delivered an iPhone app to make it easier to use them?
He opened the door for us, we got in, he asked us where we wanted to go and we were off. He didn’t know the address so I said I’d look it up using Yelp on my iPhone, but he beat me to it using AroundMe on his iPhone. That’s an app I need.
The car was very clean and the driver was very friendly. When we got to the restaurant, he pulled right up in front of the door, we just got out of the car and that was it. We didn’t have to give our credit card or calculate a tip, we just walked out of the car and into the restaurant. Very nice. A few minutes later, my iPhone beeped with acknowledgment that the ride was complete. Later, when I launched the Uber app again, it asked me to rate the driver. All in all, a very smooth operation. The total cost was $23.44, but they round down to the dollar, so the total, including tip, was $23. They emailed me a receipt as well.
On our way home, we took a taxi to compare the price to Uber. Being downtown, we just walked to the street and hailed a taxi right away. So that was much faster than calling for an Uber car. The taxi was what you’d expect: dirty, old and not very comfortable. The driver was friendly enough and got us home quickly. Before we could get out of the car, I had to give the driver my credit card, wait for him to run it, hand me the receipt for me to add in a tip and sign and then get out of the car. It occurred to me that he could have done all this while on the way, rather than do it all at the end. It cost us $10.75 for the trip and I gave him a $2 tip, so $12.75 total. Not nearly as easy or comfortable an operation as Uber, although if we had taken Uber home, I would have had to use the app beforehand to call for a car rather than walk out in the street and hail a taxi that are easy to find downtown.
I’ve never used a Town Car service, but I’ve used a limo twice in my life and both times I had to call days in advance and go through the “sign-up” process with the company. The limos came on time both times and were generally good service, but much much more expensive. Uber can sit between the taxi and Town Car markets, but eventually, both will (or should!) work on making their services as easy to use as Uber making it harder for Uber to compete between the two. The number of taxis in the city will always make them more efficient, therefore cheaper, than Uber but they won’t be as nice a car as Uber. Town Car and limo services will have to cater to even higher-end markets (weddings, big parties, etc.) or compete directly with Uber. Right now, though, Uber has set the bar for a nice and easy experience. The only problem with Uber is that you don’t know how much it will cost before you try it. That’s always an impediment to getting people to try something. They should work on setting standard pricing so you know how much it will cost before you take the trip. They could at least let you set your destination and give you a cost estimate. A cocktail or glass of champagne for the ride couldn’t hurt either.