Uber are a private taxi firm trying to get a hold of the lucrative London market. Their main selling point is an incredibly easy to use app, a fleet of luxury cars, and a hassle free experience.
I agree with Paul Carr when he describes Uber's crushing desire to "disrupt" as a fanatical form of hyper-libertarianism which could have decidedly nasty consequences.
However, I thought I'd try it out for myself after being given a £20 free voucher.
The app is lovely, and it had some delightful features - for example, I could take a photo of my credit card rather than manually typing in the numbers.
Emerging from a party by London's Westminster bridge I pulled out the app. It located me quickly, told me there were several cars in the area. I clicked a button and a few seconds later had a call from my driver to let me know where he was. It took us longer to cross the street to the pick-up point than it took for the car to arrive. Impressive!
The car was sleek, black, luxurious. The driver was friendly and we chatted about the Uber service. As we stepped out of the cab at our destination, my phone buzzed with the emailed receipt of the journey.
That's the other advantage to Uber, no need to deal with cash or a tip - everything is built in. No wallet, no problem - they money is seamlessly taken from your card.
That was the last impressive thing about Uber. Everything else is a bit shit.
For a start, the pricing is opaque. There's no meter in the cab, the app doesn't give any information, and the website is frustrating to use on a mobile phone.
The first indication I had of the price was when I received the bill via email.
Youch! Fourteen quid for a couple of miles. I eventually found their pricing structure - it's essentially double that of a Black Taxi.
Still, it was free, right? Nope! Uber charged me £4. Why? I had a £20 voucher.
After reaching out to Uber via email (they don't seem to take phone calls) it turns out that when I signed up, they applied a £10 bonus to my account. Now, I don't know about you, but I expect £10 + £20 to equal £30.
Uber don't. The vouchers are separate. Rather than applying the largest voucher first, or anything useful like that, they treat them as distinct entities. So my £14 journey was reduced to £4. Leaving me with £20 to spend later.
Annoying, but not catastrophic.
Last night we decided to try using Uber again. Around 2230 on a Tuesday night, whipped out the app, it showed drivers in the area, with an estimated pick up time of 5 minutes. Click click click, cab booked.
Then this came through.
Seventeen minutes? I was in Bloomsbury - not the frozen wastelands of Balham! To be frank, a five minute wait saw a couple of black cabs drive past us. A 6 minute wait and there was a bus direct to our destination.
So I hit cancel and we jumped on the 188 back to Waterloo.
Who Is Uber For?
Uber isn't a bad concept. They've got a lovely app, and delightful cars. They attitude to customer service is very mixed - great drivers, poor back end staff.
One of the reasons that Silicon Valley is so "disruptive" is because San Francisco and the surrounding areas are <whispers>a little bit crap!</whispers> Public transport in the bay is patchy - and nowhere near as convenient as London. Their underground service didn't seem to connect with the train service, bus stations never seemed to be around when you needed them, cabs were dirty etc. In that environment, I can see Uber florishing.
But London - oh my darling London! - is different. You can't sneeze without hitting a Black Cab, the drivers are knowledgeable and the cabs are clean. For all its faults, the tube takes you to within spitting distance of most places. Buses, in the centre, are regular and full enough for me to always feel safe on them.
So, who is Uber for?
- People with more money than sense.
- The select few who are desperate to give the appearance that they have a luxury car service.
- Those who are currently ignored by taxis.
- If you've lost your Oyster card and wallet, but still have your phone.
- Anyone with severe class-phobia who still thinks Maggie was right about riding the bus.
If you really need a taxi and can't find one on the streets, consider using Hailo to hail a black cab. The price is cheaper, the service is quicker, and the drivers and vehicles are fully vetted and insured.
I still have £20 Uber credit, in the unlikely event that I find myself in Central London with no taxis, buses or tube stations - I think I'll just walk home.