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Getting home – my first Uber

Normally, I don’t take a lot of cabs, (I suppose it is true that I am addicted to my car), but since I messed up my ankle and since I’ve been going to physiotherapy a couple times each week, I have taken cabs a few times. Sometimes, Tuffy P has dropped me off at physio on her way to work, and I’ve cabbed it back.

My taxi experiences have been mixed. On my last physio day, I was picked up by an excellent and personable driver. We talked about mobile phones. His kids want him to have a smart phone so they can text him, but he prefers to talk to his family so he can understand how they are feeling, if they are happy, sad, stressed, nervous, or whatever. I liked him because he was a really friendly fellow, and because he drove safely. However, a couple weeks ago, I was in a cab and told a driver I was going to 27th Street, straight down Kipling to the Lakeshore and then west.  He ignored me and continued west on Queensway. I think he was going to take me to Highway 27 or the 427. Clearly we had a communication breakdown. I had to say, hey, where are you going, you need to go south!

Last winter, I was twice in Edmonton (part of that time during nasty weather), and my experience with taxis there was excellent. All the cabs I took in that city were reliable and clean and the drivers were friendly and polite. I don’t know how much the taxi experience changes from city to city in Canada, or even how typical my own experiences have been.

Here in Toronto, Uber has been in the news just about every day. Cab drivers have been protesting because they see Uber eating their lunch. It seems that becoming a cab driver is a difficult and mysterious process, but becoming an Uber driver is comparitively easy-peasy, and it also seems clear that people like Uber. So there have been loud criticisms from the taxi industry, that Uber drivers are not properly screened and so on.

Last night I decided to see what all the fuss was about, so I downloaded the app and registered. That was straight-forward. It only took me just a couple minutes. I provided my payment information (was this risky?…my brother things so. Would you provide payment details up front?). The app enabled me to easily take a selfie so drivers would know who they are picking up. I invested another couple minutes in going to a website to find out how the whole thing works. Along the way I picked up a promotion code entitling me to a free ride. That will never work, I thought. It turns out if worked just fine.

So this morning after physio, I hobbled outside as usual. Taxi or Uber, what shall I do? I was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste any time. I thought, well I’ll try ordering an Uber car and see how long it they tell me I’ll have to wait. It took seconds to order the car, and within another few seconds I received a response with the name of my driver, the make and model of his car and his plate number. He was 6 minutes away, the app told me. I texted him. I’m at the entrance to the mall by the Zellers. It turned out he took 8 minutes because the app wasn’t clear in showing him where to pick me up in this mall parking lot, and he didn’t look at the text while he was driving. He called me, and we quickly straightened it out. Eight minutes is still comparable to the time it has taken me to get a cab. I’ve had cabs come in 4 or 5 minutes but also in 12 or 15 minutes.

The car was clean. The driver was friendly. He was retired from his job driving for the TTC after 30 years, and took the Uber gig to keep himself occupied and make a little extra money. He told me he likes it because he can work when he feels like it. He just has to turn on the app and say he’s available. He told me that he thinks most Uber drivers are doing it because they like it, and a lot of them do it part time so they aren’t working long hours at the job. He also likes the fact that passengers are registered and he isn’t picking up just anybody on the street.

The cost for the trip home was under $10, or at least it would have been. I had entered my promo code and so I got the trip free. The same taxi ride home typicially been anywhere from $13.75 to $16.00. The estimate for my Uber ride was comparable to a taxi ride. I don’t know why the total before promotion discount came out less than the estimate. I tried to give my driver a cash tip, which he refused. I understand many drivers are happy to take a tip but not this fellow, and to this point the app is not set up for tipping. In fact, it’s clear that tipping is not required, even if it is something I’m used to doing. The Uber idea was the passengers could hop in and hop out.  My driver liked that too. He says he prefers not having to deal with the money on the trip.

I liked that I could see where my driver was on the little map displayed on the app, while I was waiting. I could see a tiny car on the map turn in to the parking lot. 1 minute away. That’s him there. I checked the plate number and waved.

I don’t have enough Uber experience yet to really offer a fair comparison between Uber and taxis but so far I have to say I liked my Uber experience. I was a little surprised it was so quick and easy and I enjoyed using the app rather than calling a cab. It works really well, better than I had expected. I’ll use Uber again for sure. On the other hand, if I’m downtown and I need a ride, it may be easier to look around and hail a cab and I would not hesitate to do that. Of course, soon I’ll be back on my feet and my car addiction will kick in and I’ll be back to my driving ways.

I suspect that a lot of the specific arguments about licensing and insurance and so on may turn out to be red herrings. In the end, I think the app is tremendously powerful, and maybe it will be powerful enough to be unstoppable. I can understand why the taxi industry is upset. Do you use Uber? What have your experiences been like?

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