Sep. 2, 2011 at 11:01 AM ET
An on-demand car service that provides a private driver via texts, or Android/iPhone app is not the cheapest transportation option out there, but it is handy in a time pinch, with all payments done online.
Uber debuted last fall and is available in four cities: Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New York (which just received the service in May). While it isn't so widespread yet, let me tell you about my experience with it yesterday.
Getting a ride to the airport is not always possible and when time is tight, public transportation is not the best option either. I've had terrible experiences with taxis (bad attitudes, worse driving and getting lost were not infrequent) so I've turned to car services as my number one option. (Thanks to Tippr and LivingSocial vouchers, the typical $50 fare to the airport is usually halved.)
But I was intrigued by Uber, which promised to find the nearest driver via satellite and have them sent to the house within about 10 minutes. Once you've set up an account online, the ride gets charged once you reach your destination. No cash is ever exchanged in the car. I didn't try it until I purchased a LivingSocial voucher earlier this week that gave me $40 of credit for $20.
I set up an account, plugged in my promotional code and was promptly credited with $40. I downloaded the app onto my Samsung Droid Charge and it pulled up my neighborhood. I moved the pointer to my exact location and within seconds, the app found a driver, gave me his name and an option to call him and updated the status to tell me he'd be at my house in 10 minutes. I called him because my neighborhood is a little confusing (and I'm always reassured by the sound of a human voice).
My driver arrived in 11 minutes in a black towncar (a Caddy, no less!), as promised. He was professional, pleasant and did not drive badly. That alone is worth five stars to me, since I can't stand that abrupt sudden herky jerky braking and unnecessary acceleration between stoplights so many drivers seem to think gets you there faster.
On the drive to the airport, he told me that he'd been with Uber for almost a month (it debuted in Seattle almost mid-August), and it was working out. He liked that he never had to deal with cash, or payments of any kind. Cash, he said, was dangerous. He knew of a recent robbery with another limo driver who picked up the fare off the street.
Uber drivers are given an iPhone 4. In my driver's case, it was a Verizon iPhone and he used it just for Uber. It alerted him when he was the closest driver to a pickup, and he'd respond if he accepted. He used it just for Uber dispatches. He told me he chose his hours for Uber, which also allowed him to work at his other company.
When we were in the car, the app tracked our progress to the airport on a map, but it did not do that when my driver was en route to me. But it updated me with when he would arrive.
We got to the airport in about 25 minutes, which is just about right. Uber's rates are based on distance or time, depending on speed (lower the speed, lower the rate). I was charged $70, but then my $40 credit was applied, so it came to $30. In addition to the $20 I spent for the LivingSocial voucher, the grand total was $50. Which is the going rate for a private car to the airport from my neighborhood (and the flat rate for Uber drivers going from downtown Seattle to the airport).
I don't know if I'd spend $70, but it was a smooth, hassle free experience that got me to the airport in time to stand in a security line for the next half hour, with a half hour to spare before my flight.