Has Uber changed the way we travel?

No relevance whatsoever, except, this was taken while commuting to the Kempegowda International Airport in Bangalore in an Uber

I mentioned travel, not commute, but well, yes it has. That much is obvious, but then why the obvious headline?

Back in Mumbai, it’s become my app of choice for hailing a cab, however, I still maintain a hierarchy for taxi services (It’s the kalli-peeli, Uber, Ola, Meru). But this is not about local travel.

Traditionally, one aspect of travelling to another city, especially one outside Maharashtra, that is a bit unnerving for me is the local language. When we were kids, we used to travel around the country quite often during the vacations, and whenever we had to move from point to point, we had to use local transport. While we did experiment with the local public transport from the buses to the trams, whenever a car was not rented, it had to be local cabs and rickshaws.

Among Indians, it’s common knowledge that tourists get fleeced every time they do anything outside of their home city. Hell, you can get fleeced if you travel to parts that are not your usual hangouts in your own city.

In places where cabs / ricks would run by meter, travel usually boiled down to taking complicated step-by-step directions to ensure that you were not taken for a ride in circles around your destination just to get the meter reading jacked up. While I suspect that every cab in the country has meters, in some parts, its a default accessory you get with a cab that never used, just like an appendix. For these places, it meant contacting your friendly local and finding out what’s the ballpark rate for one place to the other. It was then your job to bargain with the cabbie to bring his quoted rate to the locally acknowledged tourist / local rate. All the while, usually in a language you can’t understand. ARGH!

As you can guess, I love shops with price tags or price boards. It’s just easier, though bargain hunters may disagree. Similarly, hardcore travellers might insist that haggling with the local transport in a language you can’t possibly understand is part of the travel experience, but it’s not for me. So on a trip to Bangalore to attend a relative’s wedding, what bought a smile to my face was spotting Uber doing the rounds there, all the while conveniently sitting in my chair in Mumbai. All those memories of mum and dad haggling with cabbies were now just memories.

It’s just so much more convenient to know where your cab is, how much the fare will cost, and how long will it take to get there all on the click of a touchscreen. Based on my Uber experience in Bangalore, just a few after thoughts that could help improve service…

  1. Objects on the screen are further that they seem: I’m not sure why, but every time I’d load up the screen, there was a cab almost right next to me, but once I’d confirm, that app would always ‘find my uber’ some distance away. Especially annoying if you held off your booking so that you didn’t keep the cabbie waiting only to then find yourself waiting.
  2. Route updates: In Mumbai, I usually know all the routes leading from point A to B. In Bangalore (or any new city for that matter), I get a route and a fare estimate, and then, once the trip is on, there are no updates on your cellphone. If the driver does not have his Uber cell in your line of sight or have his voice navigation turned all the way up, you’re no longer sure if you are being taken for a ride. It’s a bit disconcerting to watch your cab deviate from the blue line with no updates on your phone.

Lastly, my biggest grouch, which is actually an annoyance more than anything, is the fact that at Bangalore airport, I couldn’t pick the cab I wanted. All that’s there is an airport transport option. This became an issue because we had two massive bags between the four of us (it was a wedding trip) and we were assigned a Nissan Micra. So we had to cancel and try again.

No good for more than one big bag and more than three people (Pic courtesy: Nissan Micra brochure)

Thankfully, the next time around we got a Toyota Etios, which had enough room in the boot to take the bags. The grouch? The cancellation charges were on and we had to wait an additional 10 minutes till the cab came to the pick up point out in the open (it’s currently set up in such a way that if you book a cab at the terminal, by the time you get to the pick up point, you cab is waiting for you). Then began the tedious process of explaining to Uber why I cancelled (the big clue should have been that I ordered another cab within a minute of cancelling the first, but sure) to get my refund. Maybe there was a way to get the cab size I wanted but with no Uber GO or Uber X or even Uber XL to choose from, which is something I’m used to, it was not obvious.

With two big bags and four people, this one is more reassuring (Pic courtesy: Toyota Bharat photo gallery)

I now look forward to travelling to more cities in India, but mostly those that have Uber available. I know, not the best way to pick a travel destination, so then, on the other hand, I might just pick a destination where I can arrive at point A and never leave that place until it’s time to head back home. So I guess a beach it is?