a peek inside the fishbowl

21 Mar, 2016

Thoughts of a first time Uber user

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

The recent news about Uber not being allowed to pick up passengers at the Ottawa airport got me thinking about my own experience with this ride-share service.

I have been very slow to jump on the Uber bandwagon mostly because I never loved the idea of jumping into a car with a perfect stranger… BUT I finally had a chance to try Uber during my recent visit to Toronto. I was there as a guest of Mill Street Brew Company and was invited to use their Uber account. It was the perfect opportunity to give it a shot, so that’s exactly what I did.

Untitled

Toronto view

Most of you already know what Uber is, but for those of you who don’t, Uber is a ride-sharing service. Part of what’s driving its incredible growth – other than the fact that most of the time it’s cheaper than taking a cab – is that Uber uses mobile phone technology in a really smart way. The user summons a driver on the app and pays ahead of time using the app as well. No cash is exchanged at any point.

I should point out that city bylaws require that anyone driving passengers for a fare must have municipal taxi permits, so Uber is technically operating illegally. Taxi drivers are upset at the loss of revenue, as you can imagine.

The Uber app

The app is very intuitive and easy to use. Ordering a car only takes a few seconds. Your smartphone already knows where you are so you simply touch the screen to set your pick up location. Also: I love love love being able to pre-pay and the whole transaction being cashless. I didn’t truly appreciate how much I disliked the “do you have change for a twenty” part of a cab ride until it was eliminated.

The stranger danger

My worry with Uber was always about getting into a car with a perfect stranger. Then I thought about it and realized that when I get into a cab I am also getting into a car with a total stranger. (And I’ve had some cabbies that made me feel uncomfortable before.) With Uber, I can see, on the app, a photo of the person who is going to pick me up, how they are rated by other passengers, what car they’re driving, and their license plate number.

Uber drivers go through a pre-screening process that includes a review of their driving record and a background check. What also helps their case is that the app logs information  cabs do not, including time and location of pickup and the exact route the driver took to get the passenger to his or her destination. Passengers can also share their ETA with friends so they can follow the route and know the exact time of arrival.

It occurred to me is that another way to use Uber is as an emergency ride for our teenagers. Our kids never leave home without their phones, so I can set up the app for them with my payment information ahead of time, for them to use in case they are stuck somewhere.

A problem scenario I didn’t foresee

I was heading back to the hotel with a small group of people. We were in the Distillery District and the area was busy with people and cars (and cabs). Craig, one of our party, ordered an Uber car on his phone. I wasn’t paying close attention, but I saw Craig walk across the street with his phone to his ear. He was obviously talking to the Uber driver and letting him know where we were. “We’re just walking across the street,” he said. A car pulled over and we all piled in. THAT is when we realized we got into the wrong Uber car. Ack. Craig had to go through a whole rigmarole cancelling one car and ordering the one we were in as the driver executed some crazy 12-point turn right in the middle of the intersection. I still think our driver “stole” us from another driver.

A positive Uber experience

The next night I was with my group at a recreational axe-throwing place (!) that was located in some old warehouse lord-knows-where in Toronto. I had a great time throwing axes (feel free to call me if there’s a zombie apocalypse because I AM READY) but I wasn’t feeling great so had to bail early. This meant I was going back to the hotel solo. I dialled up an Uber car by dropping a pin at my location since I didn’t know the address offhand.

The app showed a car – Leon was the driver – only four minutes away. This was VERY welcome news, because the whole warehouse district was dark and totally abandoned and I was anxious. I made my way through a big parking lot and waited out by a main road, which would have been tolerable and less scary had there not been a group of people nearby smoking up. Gah. At this point I was watching the app like a hawk. I saw Leon’s car on the app getting closer. The app counting down the ETA: three minutes, two minutes, one minute… but there was no actual car. I was a little puzzled, and then my phone rang. It was Leon, asking me where I was.

Like a big dummy, I realized I had no idea where I was. Thankfully, he was pretty cool about it, and actually sounded calm and concerned, while we worked out the address based on the name of the place. Turns out the pin I dropped wasn’t accurate – a failing of the GPS – and he was waiting on the other side of the warehouse area. He drove up a couple minutes later and I piled in the front seat.

The car was new, impeccably clean, and Leon was a real treat to talk to. We talked all about Uber and why he’s a driver etc. He’s a young guy – mid 20s – who works in the cycling industry. Leon told me his girlfriend was away so he thought he’d make a few bucks instead of binging on Netflix. He loves meeting people and loves this little PT job with Uber. We were so busy chatting we unfortunately missed his exit, but it was no biggie. We ended up taking a more scenic route back to my hotel but it was actually pretty fun. The traffic was snarled and as we approached my hotel and he kindly told me that I might want to hop out because it’d be faster. He knew I didn’t know Toronto very well so he pointed exactly which direction I needed to go to get back to my hotel. It wasn’t really necessary since I could practically see it from the passenger seat, but his concern and kindness was quite real. Five stars!

This system is obviously not without hiccups, but unless the cab drivers up their game I honestly don’t see myself taking one ever again. Do you use Uber? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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