Uber has taken the world by storm…be it the US, Europe or right here in South Africa. The service first caught my eye when other taxi services in the UK, Germany, France and other countries protested vehemently against this new service, deeming it to be illegal and unsafe for passengers.
Yes, Uber is a taxi service with a twist! It runs on a web-based application that connects customers with available taxis. As a customer, you can order a cab via the application (downloadable for free on an iPhone and other androids), and track the location and estimated time of arrival. Based in San Francisco, this service started in 2009, and has been launched in about 45 countries so far.
To use the service, you need to download the app, create an account and submit credit card details. Yes, Uber can only be used if you have a credit card as its a cashless service. The card gets charged automatically at the end of the journey. They also email you the receipt.
Although Uber debuted in Joburg a few months ago, I only tried It last week. I was wary at first but all my fears were unfounded. Setting up the app and creating my account on the phone took only a few minutes. When the time came to actually book a cab, I logged in and based on my GPS location, I was able to see that the nearest cab would take 10mins to reach me. I had selected the budget UberX option. They also have a premium option of Uber Black.
After confirming the cab, I was able to track the cab and the driver via the app, on the map! So I could see exactly which road the driver was taking. I found this super cool! Once the cab reached my location, the driver called me and it was time to leave. The cab was a nice and clean Toyota Corolla with a magazine for the passenger to read. The driver was friendly and chatty and told me that he worked for a company that allowed him to login and drive for Uber when he was available. This is the general strategy that Uber uses – it partners with individuals and taxi companies and gives them the flexibility to drive for Uber whenever they have the time. The drivers just need to log in to start picking up passengers. Another feature of this service is that the cars are unmarked, i.e there is no Uber branding. This allows anyone to drive for Uber!
Uber does not take bookings in advance. Now this may seem like a problem if you need to get somewhere at an exact time, like the airport. But there is a way around it if you have the patience. Since the app shows the approximate time a cab can reach your location, you just need to keep the app open for several minutes before you actually intend to leave. Then, based on the time taken to reach your destination, order your cab. It may sound tedious, and many of you might want to book a regular cab for such instances. But if you live in Joburg, where cabs are few and far between, and reliability is an issue, you will take the trouble! Just like I did.
I have come back a happy satisfied customer and will be Uber-ing again real soon!