As most people that are friends with me on Facebook know, I’ve been a huge supporter of Uber since I first learned about the ingenious on-demand car service a year and a half ago. As an advocate of competition and a major hater of the current taxi/limo service business model, I was stoked to see an alternative that touched on my geeky side (app support, driver ratings, GPS tracking) and my human side (nice drivers, transparent pricing, drivers that will go to Brooklyn from NYC without bitching).
All that said, as a consumer, I’m getting a little tired of all the hoops and hurdles Uber has to go through when it tries break into a new market. I travel a ton and I hate having to spend time figuring out whether or not Uber is available in the region I’m traveling to, what miserable constraints I have to face regarding pick up and drop off points and the insane taxes being levied on Uber users by local authorities.
Case in point:
Example #1: I land in New Orleans, fire up my Uber app and I find a few drivers in the area. The only option is the premium Uber Black or SUV service. Fine, I need to get to the French Quarter and New Orleans mass transit sucks.
A driver picks me up and explains to me that Uber is new to the area and the state won’t allow private citizens to become Uber drivers, so the service has been divvied up by two or three limo companies. That explains why there is no UberX service. Fine. He complains that the limo service (or Uber, not quite sure) take his tips and he only receives a flat $9 an hour fee for driving. That sucks, so I give him a $10 when we reach the hotel.
When I get my receipt, I’m astonished to see that I was charged $75 for what is typically a $33 flat-rate taxi ride. Looks like Uber is being forced to add a minimum $75 fee for anyone going from the airport to anywhere else. WTF? Luckily I had a ton of referral cash and only had to pay $25. There was no warning of this additional fee via the app and I would have been pissed if I was charged the full $75 for the ride.
By the way, once you are actually in the French Quarter, there are zero Uber vehicles in the area. I checked often and came up empty every time.
Example #2: Any time I land in Newark, finding an Uber driver is an exercise in stress management. You open the app at the baggage area and find a driver. There are usually a few floating around. They call you and then the dance begins. First, you must go to the departures door because cops will ticket Uber drivers the moment they hit the curb at arrivals. Looks like non-authorized cabs or limo services are a no-no at EWR.
When you get to the second level, you have to actually look out for cops and hide behind concrete pillars so the police don’t see you waiting with bags. That’s a red flag. When the car comes, you basically have to commando roll in before he or she gets flanked by the law. Also, there has to be a passenger in shotgun, because one dude driving and another in the backseat is, you guessed it, another red flag.
I won’t even get into the mess in Las Vegas. Nevada basically destroys you in Taxi surcharges. You can walk to the airport from the strip and not break a sweat, but, for some reason, it’s always a $20 cab ride, no matter where you go in Sin City. Uber needs to get their game on in Vegas, but I have a feeling it’s hitting crazy stumbling blocks there.
Look, I know Uber has had some issues with its bro-dude corporate culture and the competition is starting to heat up with Lyft, but you have to respect them for being innovative, taking on the taxi industry head on (and actually hurting them) and spending the money to fight the legislative battles that will hopefully pave the way for future competition.
One last thing — San Diego: Best Uber service ever. I was stuck in Balboa Park last year (on a Sunday, after hours, no cabs anywhere) and Uber found me in the middle of nowhere near some abandoned carousel. Wish all cities where that forward thinking.