I was standing at the valet stand at the Grand Bohemian not long ago, waiting for one of the drivers to bring my car around, when a cab driver who had parked on Jefferson Street rather than pull into the Grand Bo’s portico shuffled up to the young man at the valet stand and gave the name of the party he was there to pick up. The young man barely stifled a laugh as he told the cabbie that the party had left more than 45 minutes ago. “They got tired of waiting and found another ride,” he told the driver.
I wish I could assume that that was an anomaly but my own experiences with calling for a cab in town are the same. Whether it was for a ride to the airport or to an event I did not want to have to drive home from, the cabs I called were reliably unreliable. So I simply stopped trying to use them, except for the few times I arrived at the airport without an arranged ride home. But there’s almost always a taxi waiting for fares at the airport.
So that is why I’m excited about Uber coming to town. I know that there are a lot of questions, many of them valid, about the legality of the ride sharing company. There are issues dealing with liability and licensing. But I personally plan to use UberX often, especially to go to restaurants. I can now have the extra glass of wine with my steak or linger over an after-dinner cocktail because I won’t have to drive home. And if my past experiences are any indication, I probably won’t have to wait more than 4 minutes for my UberX car to arrive after I tap my request for one into my smartphone.
I’ve used Uber in Atlanta to go restaurant hopping. And I used it recently in London to get from the Victoria Station area to Hix restaurant in Soho in the rain. And I’ve used it here in town, including on one occasion to go to and from a pub. In all cases the cars arrived quickly, they were clean and comfortable, and the drivers were pleasant. They didn’t always know how to get to where I was going, but I did and was able to give directions. I’m sold.
Here’s how it works. You download the Uber app from your appropriate operating system’s app store. IOS here and Android here. Open it up and fill in your details, including the credit card you want the fares to be charged to. That’s one of the keys to this service’s success — no money exchanges hands between you and the driver. It’s all calculated by the app. You arrive at your destination and hop out. No fumbling for change, no trying to calculate a tip in your head.
In fact, the drivers are told not to accept cash tips. The first time I used Uber I had a code for a free ride. Because it was free, I figured I’d give the driver a few extra dollars. He refused them. Instead I gave him a five-star rating.
That’s another key. You rate your driver at the end of the ride. This is an incentive for the drivers to keep their cars clean, to be courteous and to overall make your experience pleasant. Some drivers keep a cooler of cold bottles of water or offer charging cables for their riders’ cell phones. You should be pleasant too because the drivers can rate you, as well.
The people who have signed up to be UberX drivers indicate their availability to pick up riders by signing into their end of the app. When you’re ready for a ride — and not before; there’s no advance scheduling of rides — you open the app and tap on your location. The GPS function of your smartphone will find you and you can just use your location as the pickup point. A map on the phone’s screen will show little car icons that indicate how many cars are in the area and how close they are. You can also get an estimate on how much the ride will cost.
When you click the link to order the car, you’ll be given the driver’s name, rating and photo, plus the type of car he or she is driving. The app will tell you how long you’ll have to wait for the car, and when it is approaching the app will send you a text message saying so.
There’s a great deal of controversy surrounding Uber and Lyft, a similar type of service, in Central Florida. But I’m sold on it and plan to use it often. And as far as I’m concerned the worst that can happen is that the professional taxi drivers will have to step up their game and improve their service. Hopefully the scene I witnessed at the Grand Bohemian won’t occur again.
If you’d like to give it a try, here’s a $10 credit. After you select your location, you’ll see a screen with a choice to enter a promo code. Type in scottj126 and you’ll get a $10 credit to use for the ride (full disclosure: I will, too). Let me know what you think of the service.