"If I tell you where I am, can you send a cab out there to fetch me?", were my exact words when I first tried calling a cab service in North America. I grew up in the Middle East. Nobody takes cabs there because everyone has their own chauffeur. Myself included. It’s not a status thing. It’s just a norm of the society. Uber takes this concept of a personal driver and makes it universal.
Being able to call a cab is great. What’s not great is the variety of unknown factors involved. When will your cab be here? If you change your mind, how do you ‘call it off’? Is your cab driver lost?
Enter: Uber. Uber is a somewhat upscale cab service that seeks to eliminate the unknowns and help the environment, while keeping it classy.
When you fire up the Uber app (you can also do this via text message), you can see how many cars are near your current location. The map locations for the entire Uber fleet are shown in real-time. No more guessing how long it’s actually going to take your cab to arrive.
Once you’ve made up your mind and would like to go ahead and arrange a pickup, you can simply assign a pick-up location and the app will notify you how long it will take for the nearest Uber driver to reach you. The app tells you the first name of your driver and a button to call him (doesn’t show the number; a subtle, yet excellent detail).
I had my first Uber experience on my way back from the March Sprouter event. I was running late for a meeting and had to request a pick up. I was in jeans and a sweater and although I’d followed Uber’s activity in Toronto for a while, was not prepared for the men-in-black-looking Uber driver that came to collect me. He rolled up in a sleek Lincoln town car and got the door for me.
The interior of the car: leather. What a refreshing change from the usual smell of smoke in cabs! Once inside, I noticed that the drivers have their own version of the app where they’re given their own screen with the first name of the customer and a button to call them. That’s pretty slick.
I knew it was a short ride, so I took the opportunity to ask Zaheer all about the other end of Uber. How many cars are there in the fleet? (~100) Did he like working for Uber? (Very much so) How long had he been with them? (several months) Did they provide the smartphones? (Yes). He then asked me if it was my first time riding in an Uber. I excitedly told him it was.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel pampered when we rolled to a stop outside my destination and Zaheer exited the car, opened the door for me, and wished me a good night. And I didn’t even have to mess with cab fare, change, or awkwardly waiting for the POS to connect to server. It’s all taken care of by Uber!
I can’t help but applaud the keen focus on User Experience that Uber is targeting. It’s slick, it’s classy, and it’s not as expensive as you think it would be. There are a couple of drawbacks, of course:
1) You can’t pick the amount of tip
2) There’s a cancellation fee if you change your mind
3) You have to train yourself to look for a lincoln town car instead of a bright yellow sedan
I paid about $3 more than I would have paid for regular cab fare. It was worth it.