Uber - the future of taxi transport

I haven't written a blog post in a while, but wanted to share a positive experience with Uber, which is, in essence, a mobile-app for booking and paying for a taxi ride (with a few differences that I'll list below). This type of app is not the first, there are notable others, but it does appear to be gaining some popularity recently, and for good reason!

The best way to explain it is to describe a simple scenario: you want to book a taxi to take you to the airport, and you just heard about Uber so want to give it a try.

  1. Download the Uber app for your Android or iOS phone.
  2. Create an account with your email, and register a credit-card.
    1. The app allows you to use your phone's camera to 'scan' your card, which automatically fills in the credit-card number. All you have to do is verify it's correct, enter the expiry date, and you're done.
  3. Now the app shows you a map with your current location, and an estimate of how long it will take for a taxi to get to your location (e.g. 7 minutes). You can zoom out to see live locations of nearby taxis.
  4. Here you have a few options: you can select the type of car you want, i.e:
    1. Regular Taxi - cheapest option, these are usually regular taxi drivers that have signed up for the Uber program. This will cost about the same or slightly more than booking the taxi via other means.
    2. Black car - around 30% to 40% more expensive than a taxi ride, but these are luxury Mercedes/BMW type cars, usually very clean and comfortable, etc. 
    3. Luxury car - I haven't tried this one yet, I imagine its a limo-like car, and also quite expensive.
  5. The app allows you to get an estimate quote for any car type to any destination before you book. The estimates provide a low-high range dependent on traffic, and are quite accurate.
  6. Once you've decided on a car type, and are happy with the estimate, you just click the Book button and you're done. You can now see the auto-selected nearest available car on the map as it approaches you, with an estimated time of arrival. You'll also get SMS notifications as it approaches.
  7. Once the car has arrived, the driver will usually help you with your bags, you get in, and s/he will drive you to your destination.
  8. Once you have arrived, you just pick up your bags and walk away - payment for the ride is automated through the app, no need to pay the driver.
    1. You'll get an email receipt within a minute or two, with a map showing your journey, and the cost, which is charged to the credit-card linked to the account.
I find this service to be extremely convenient for a few reasons. Mostly, you can take out your phone at any time and get a good idea of how long it would take for a taxi to arrive, and how much it would cost to go somewhere, before you consider other options. Secondly, the receipt contains a map of your journey, with a clear cost based on distance traveled, so you know if your driver was trying to cheat you or not (and the recorded navigation path + reviews is incentive for them to do the right thing). Third, the whole process is just super convenient - take out your phone, press a few buttons, and wait.

Surprisingly also, they sometimes have specials on the Taxi class that makes using Uber cheaper than hailing a cab on the street. For example, there's a 30% off deal at the moment in San Francisco, which would let me save around $25 on a trip to the airport.

There are a few things missing, for example, pre-booking a cab for some trip in the future. I suspect this doesn't exist yet as it's presumably hard to guarantee on-time taxi bookings, especially as there may be no way of knowing how many Uber drivers will be in a specific area at a specific time. Maybe once the service grows more, this would be easier to predict and implement with some level of accuracy.

Another missing feature (I think, I haven't looked too hard) is that you can't select your driver based on reviews. The app auto-assigns the closest car to you, and you can write a review after the trip, but can't filter out low reviewed drivers. I suspect, perhaps, if reviews are low, Uber may kick a driver out, but I'm not sure on this. It may be useful to allow users to select a driver if they so wish.

I could also envisage some safety features backed into the app - for example, as you're in the car, you can use the app to check your live position on the map towards your destination. You could maybe share your live-ride directly to trusted friends/family (Google+ circle integration or similar). If you notice the driver is going off-course, or something else happens, you could perhaps press a panic button that records video/audio and have it streamed straight to Uber, etc. Maybe before you even get in the car you can take a photo of the license plate as it approaches, which gets uploaded and synched to your trip. Note that I'm not saying Uber is not safe (it's probably a lot better than a regular taxi where there is no record of you ever entering the car), but some features along these lines may offer extra peace-of-mind to some passengers.

In general though, I find Uber to be a super-convenient service, and I believe it has great potential to shake-up the industry. Apparently Google Ventures thinks so too, with a $258 million investment in 2013 according to public sources. So next time you need a taxi, or want a fancy ride to the school formal, consider giving Uber a go!

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