Reasons to like Uber

Taxis in the mating seasonThere’s a lot of fuss and palaver about the Uber SmartPhone Ap that lets people hail a private car with a willing driver in place of Taxi services. They have, like taxi companies, set rates, insurance, and even legal cover. What they don’t have are the local authority licences.

Over the past month or two I’ve sat in the back of enough taxis and listened to the Cab Driver’s grievances about the extra competition, lack of competence, risk factors and cost to get a feel for the nature of the dispute. I’ve also had enough grief from licensed Taxi drivers (Especially the Parisian ones) to make me think they are often no better than the Uber guys, and possibly much, much, worse.

So Parisian cab drivers are rioting and beating up anyone they suspect of being an Uber driver? Right. And this is going to aid their cause how? Will the Parisian authorities cave in and enforce their ban on Uber? My question is; how can that ban be enforced without huge investment in manpower and technology by the licensing authority? As for fines, Uber has been known to just pony up and pay their drivers fines and still they make money.

Local authorities don’t like Uber because there’s a nice little earner regulating and taxing the local cab companies and their drivers. Because Uber falls outside their licensing jurisdiction, all that easy money evaporates from their coffers. The cab drivers don’t like them because they cream off fares that the ‘normal’ cab companies think they should be doing. As for honesty; a mate of mine has been both a fully licensed Hansom Cab operator and Private Hire licensed driver in the UK, and we’ve had many interesting little chats about Taxis, and the tricks some drivers use to fleece the unwitting.

Anyway, here’s some of my personal reasons for favouring Uber over traditional taxi services;

First; Uber drivers can’t charge extortionate rates because you know up front what the price is going to be like. Not like at many places where some drivers wait inside the terminal at train stations and airports to fleece arriving tourists. One driver I came across at Gare Du Nord, Paris, was demanding 70 Euros for what turned out to be a twenty five Euro fare. Needless to say, I gave him the brush off. Uber drivers have a precalculated fare you get to see on your phone before they arrive at the pickup point, unlike some cab drivers, who set their meters running even before they even get to you.
Second; Uber cabs all take credit cards. In fact you can’t pay in cash. Which is useful if you have run out of notes late at night and don’t have to beg or search your pockets for loose change. I got stuck at the Hospital on the night Mrs S broke her arm, and had three licensed cabs on a taxi rank refuse my fare because taking a credit card for a thirty Euro fare “Wasn’t worth their while.” Fortunately the Paris Metro ticket machine accepted a battered two Euro coin I found in the gutter so I actually got back to my bed that night.
Third; You can pick what sort of service you get beforehand. A high end ‘Black cab’, affiliated Taxi service or even an SUV. Which you often can’t with ‘Normal’ cabs and private hire. You get what is sent and pay the meter rate.
Fourth; There’s no hanging around in the street trying to hail a cab. You know when your ride is coming, and when it’s due to arrive. Just be at the pickup point and it all seems to work fine.
Fifth; Getting a receipt is automatic because it goes straight onto your credit card and you can generate one to be printed out later. If you forget to ask for that receipt for expenses, it’s no big deal.

The downside? You need a data enabled SmartPhone where there’s a good signal. If you’re a dinosaur like me, who has a wi-fi enabled tablet but only an old ‘Dumb’ phone, you’ll need that phone with you to receive Ubers SMS messages. Which can be a bit of a fiddle. Then their prices can go up if the service is busy (Surge pricing), or it’s a holiday like Christmas or New Years Eve, but the standard Taxis will have gone to Tariff 2 (Evenings after 11pm in the UK) or 3 (Evening + Public Holiday) by that time anyway. As for trustworthiness, well, that varies from driver to driver. Some would say Ubers rating system (Which ‘traditional’ cab companies don’t have) keeps their drivers up to snuff anyway.

According to my friend it’s sometimes a tough life being a cab driver, what with the constant squeeze on rates, weather, erratic cashflow, regulations, late night drunks and some of the dodgier clientelle, but when the money is good, it’s not that bad. However, he said with an I’m-glad-I-don’t-do-it-any-more grin, maybe the old style taxi system is massively under competitive and needs kicking to the kerb.

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