Review: Uber

I have finally used Uber.  Ironically, it was interspersed with taxi rides so there was some very clear and definite comparisons I was able to make.

So let’s begin with my feelings on taxis: EWWWW.  Call me frugal or frugal or whatever but I really struggle with taxi pricing.  Let’s do some math.
(Click here to skip the math)

Most taxis I know of charge a “base fee” for something around the first mile or so anywhere from $2.50-$5. Then they charge by the 1/8th of a mile. Anywhere from 20cents to 50cents. That means it’s $1.60 to $4 a mile. A MILE. The government “recommends” company recompense at 54cents per mile (2016 Mileage Rates) So we are already talking about three times the government reimbursement rate at that 20cents-lowest-price.  Ok, but taxi drivers have to pay higher insurance (not necessarily if you’re in like sales and driving a lot!) and their “medallion” fees (they are sometimes called just “licenses” or “permits” – but I like medallions as a name). And yes, those medallions are stupidly expense to make sure to allow for near-monopolies.

My biggest problem with this is that these rates are calculated to address a key problem with taxis: time.  You can’t just pay a driver $10/hour (haha) because they could get stuck in traffic and end up sitting in one spot for 15 minutes.  Let’s say they need to drive 5 miles.  The cab company would charge ~$9-21 for that 5 miles. ($2.50+(4*1.6) – $5+(4*4) for anyone who wants to check my math).  Whether it took 5 minutes or an hour (dude, might be faster to walk), the cab driver has just made their “wage.”

Uber changes the equation to base fare + time + distance so that it-took-an-hour-to-go-5 miles might look more like ($2.50 (guessing here!)+(1 hour * $15) + (5 miles * 20 cents)) – and yeah, this means I’m still paying $18.50, BUT if that ride only took 5 minutes… it would be like $4.75 ($2.50 base + (5min*$15/hr) BUT they could pick up ten more rides over that hour.

I’ll admit, part of the reason I dislike taxis is this discrepancy that the driver’s time is not an asset.  IF these were self-driving cars, then I might accept the leave-out-paying-for-time part of the equation.  And I get it, it’s sometimes nigh impossible to calculate what can be driven in 5 minutes and what could take an hour when you are talking major-metropolitan city (thank you stupid drivers who can’t follow driving rules!).  I don’t think with today’s technology, it’s a very good excuse.

So, on to the less practical piece of review of uber: drivers & cars. My experience with the cars has been…. interesting.  I’m quite convinced I would make a terrible Uber driver because I would never be able to keep my car that clean! Secondly, I would have an asthma attack.  Seriously, every Uber driver must be told to put in a new scented air freshener every day. And I get it – you want to make sure the car doesn’t smell BAD.  But… any strong scent smells bad to me – especially because it always means I have to pay double-attention to my breathing. I’m never sure if/when one of them will set my asthma off.

Lastly, the drivers. This is always something I dislike about taxi drivers: they are oppressively quiet to their passengers. Every city where I ever have ridden in a cab… the drivers seem to hate talking. I would too (another reason I’d be a terrible Uber driver – introvert!). Of the uber drivers I’ve ridden with, only one was not chatty. It makes the ride more fun (especially when I’m in a new city) to hear where they think I should go to eat, what is their favorite neighborhood, what they think of their fellow drivers… Again, if I’m stuck in horrible traffic…. I’d rather be talking to someone friendly than sitting in oppressive silence. Even riding in a taxi with someone else – the silence feels enforced. And yes – oppressive to the introvert who could probably happily sit and read a book but it’s too damn oppressively silent. (It is also my experience with hotel-shuttle bus/van drivers generally tend to be chatty and friendly – maybe it’s easier because they drive a specific route all the time?)

So overall, I think I would rather take Uber in the future. I like that they respect the TIME part of their equation. I like the drivers. Don’t like the smelly cars, but at least it isn’t a BAD smell. I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, but… I think it is a step above the taxi system which was designed 50+ years ago and never updated.