Feature

The Uber complex explained

What lies at the heart of the Uber craze?


Since the test run of the application in 2010, Uber has been brewing some talk, and forcing riders around the world to question the quality of their day-to-day taxi service.

The switch has been controversial in every great city on the globe, including Montreal. Many are saying that it’s due to the shrinking wages of taxi drivers, when others suggest that it’s the taxi agencies’ refusal to integrate their services with modern media, namely Apple and Android applications.

Uber, however, is a hit for far more than its ability to reach out to the younger generation. Although the fares vary from city to city, Uber tends to be significantly cheaper than taking a taxi. For example, according to Business Insider, an eight kilometre drive in a Chicago taxi that lasts approximately ten minutes would cost $14.00. The same drive in a regular Uber cab would cost only $9.50, meaning that taking a taxi would cost 1.5 times more the price of taking an Uber cab instead.

Of the people who know what Uber is, most of them don’t know that there are multiple Uber services, like uberX, Uber Black and, ironically, UberTaxi. uberX is a cheaper Uber service, meaning the cars are day-to-day, as well as the drivers, uberXL (Uber Black in other cities) is an upper-scale service; the equivalent of taxi-style Black Cars, SUVs, and Limousines, and UberTaxi functions both as an Uber cab and a taxi cab, wherein the driver accepts both cash and credit.

Back here in Montreal, we have a weak case of the Uber complex. The rise of the pseudo-cab industry has pushed Montreal agencies to develop their own applications, while maintaining the integrity and function of true taxi. Taxi Diamond, located in Montreal, has developed an application which allows users to pay both via credit, debit, cash, coupons, or the through application itself, when Uber can only be contacted and used through the application.

If the question is which service to pick, we must first place ourselves in the shoes of a customer. And in order to make a proper judgement on Uber as a whole, it is important that we place ourselves in the shoes of a customer who’s used Uber all over the globe. Not to worry, though, the shoes are probably wicked stylish and expensive.

Tu Ly, Design Director for Moose Knuckles Canada, moved from Toronto to Montreal six months ago, and claims international travel is his occupational hazard. I’ve conducted an interview with him about his travel, as well as his experience with Uber and taxi services. Tu believes Uber is the future of public transportation.

What do you use Uber for?

“I first used the service in New York City. The app is fantastic especially in a busy city like Manhattan where finding a taxi is practically a contact sport. Rush hour and bad weather contributes to difficulty. Uber allows you to order your own private car anywhere, anytime.”

Have you used any alternative Uber service, such as uberX, Uber Black, or Uber Taxi?

“Yes, last week in Paris, during Première Vision Fabric Show, a seasonal fabric fair for the fashion industry, there were no other [regular] Uber cars available so I requested Uber Black. I also used Uber taxi in Montreal for a package delivery.”

Where have you used Uber?

“I’ve used Uber in New York City, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Toronto, Montreal, and Stockholm. I tried in Maui once but it was not available.”

Have you had any memorable experiences with Uber?

“My most memorable experience is having a Cadillac Escalade pick me up at La Guardia Airport. It was super cool!”

When did you make the switch from taxi to Uber?

“I downloaded the app two years ago in New York City.”

Compare and contrast Uber from taxi? Which is better?

“In most cases, Uber provides the cleanest and best cars. Uber drivers are also better with direction using their GPS. Taxi drivers are old-fashioned and less tech savvy. I am always able to plug in and recharge my iPhone while riding with Uber. I’ve had an Audi and a BMW pick me up before, at practically the price of a taxi. London Uber drivers are dressed in suits like limo drivers. They really take pride in their services. Uber drivers are rated by customers after each ride, so they are courteous and pleasant. I like taking Uber for special formal occasions such as parties and events, since it feels like having your own private driver.”

If there is a difference, how is Uber in Montreal different from, say, Uber in Stockholm?

“Montreal Uber services are still fairly new, so in certain areas it’s difficult to find available cars. For example, last month at Carrefour Laval, I could not find any car. London has the best cars. Today, I used Uber in Stockholm, and since I do not speak Swedish, the app allows me to key in addresses of destinations without having to communicate to the driver. The only thing you have to be aware of is that the app requires internet connection, so when travelling abroad, you will need a travel Data Roaming Package. These are additional costs to keep in mind. However, this is well worth it for practical comfort and peace of the mind.”

So Uber is evidently a decent service. And that is not to say and forget about the licensed taxi industry, because there are, naturally, obligations and restrictions to use Uber, like internet and a credit card. But even then, you can just go to Starbuck’s and ping for an UberTaxi.

A week ago, a video went viral on Reddit and YouTube of a taxi driver in Ottawa threatening an Uber driver and passenger, calling them cheapskates from outside the car. The video was later removed because it violated YouTube’s Terms of Service, but some comments were preserved on Reddit:

User J_Fly:

“Things have really been heating up in Canada around the Uber thing. Not too long ago, there was another video featuring Ottawa taxi drivers posing as Uber drivers lecturing users.”

User iTzJdogxD:

“I love how cheapskate is an insult. ‘How DARE you want to pay less for a better service?’”

And from User dalbtraps:

“It just makes taxi drivers look so much more out of touch. If you’re that pissed and are so sure they’re ‘breaking the law’, why not call the police instead of accosting customers. What a jackass.”

Are taxis out of touch? Not all, but perhaps the ones that refuse to assimilate to and understand both technology and the modern human condition. Even Uber has tried to take up the taxi structure, and not to mention Taxi Diamond which has also successfully managed both mediums. We must remember that it is only a select number of angry drivers that are clinging to the traditional models, and that very slowly, the rest of industry is opening up and developing new ideas. Soon enough the controversy will fade, and people will come to their senses.

Despite the differences, we should thank Uber. After all, getting into a car with a stranger has never been more in.

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