I wrote in my last post about using Uber during our recent trip out to the west coast. Normally when we visit our kids in San Diego, we rent a car. It is the most convenient way of getting around locally without inconveniencing our kids. At least it used to be. The recent shortage of rental cars caused me to rethink that approach, and Uber became the ideal solution to our local transportation needs during our most recent travels. If you are unfamiliar with Uber, it is one of several popular peer-to-peer services offering safe and reliable local transportation services without the regulated structure (and cost) of using a licensed taxi. Lyft is another service, but I am familiar with Uber so that’s what this article is about. I won’t get into how to download and use the Uber app…Uber’s website does that much better than I ever could. What I can do is offer my list of Uber tips:
1. Register multiple forms of payment. For my most recent trip I had no problem with the first Uber ride. When I ordered the return ride, my credit card was denied. After a brief moment of panic I entered another credit card and re-ordered the ride. No worries. As soon as I did that I got a text from the first credit card company questioning the Uber charge. Their anti-fraud protection kicked in after that first charge so all I had to do was validate the charge and all was good for the rest of the trip. You can let your credit card company know you are traveling in advance and plan to use Uber, but in my experience that usually doesn’t matter…they’ll still deny charges that trigger their fraud protections. You can avoid the problem by using PayPal for Uber transactions, but I have zero trust in PayPal having been burned by their lack of security. It wasn’t a problem for me, and now I know to have two forms of payment on file for Uber.
2. Preload your POIs. Unless you are going completely off the grid, Uber’s use of Google maps makes it super easy to find points of interest like hotels, restaurants, and attractions at your destination. You can even pre-load street addresses. But…it takes data to do that. Preloading your POIs when you have good cell service or access to wifi will pay dividends when you need to order your Uber ride and find yourself in an area with spotty service.
3. Pay attention to car type. As part of the process of ordering an Uber ride, Uber will give you a list of vehicle types to choose from, along with the fare for each. The vehicle types will give you the passenger and luggage capacity along with the cost of your ride, and that is something to pay attention to. Drivers have the right to refuse to pick you up if they see that you have more people or luggage than they can handle, and you could be subject to a penalty on top of having to reorder a larger and more expensive type of vehicle.
4. Cost estimates are close but not guaranteed. For my most recent trip to Santa Barbara and San Diego, all of my Uber orders were WYSIWYG. They came with a flat rate cost, but that isn’t always the case with Uber…often you’ll get a cost range. The fare you get charged within that range will depend on the total distances involved, the time it takes, and any stops/pick-ups/drop-offs you make along the way. Still, it shouldn’t be way outside of the range given in the estimate. If it is, Uber has a process in place to dispute fares if you feel they are out of line.
5. Dynamic Pricing. Uber has a mechanism to manage the load when they don’t have enough drivers in an area to meet demand. You’ll get a notification that dynamic pricing is in effect, which means if you want a ride right away, you’ll pay more. If you can afford to wait a bit, once more drivers respond to the higher demand area, fares will revert back to standard pricing. The nice thing about Uber is they let you decide whether you want to pay more or wait more.
6. Taxi…NOT! One of the attractions to Uber in the past has been that you can get a ride for much less than a taxi. That wasn’t my experience on this trip…the cost of Uber was about the same as a taxi. Still, having expeirenced both I will take Uber over a taxi in most situations. Nowadays Uber provides consumer protection on par with, or better, than you get with a taxi and with greater convenience. It gives you a taxi-like option in locations where taxis aren’t cruising the streets like sharks looking for a meal.
7. Uber rates you. Uber mitigates the risk of picking up a bad rider for their drivers by allowing them to rate their riders. They consider things such as whether you were at the pick-up point on time or if they had to wait or drive around looking for you. They also consider if you asked to add stops after pickup (you can specify multiple stops up front when you order your Uber), asked to pick up additional riders, or if you cancel rides after ordering. A poor rating could mean a more difficult time finding a driver willing to respond to your call for a ride. How can you see your rider rating? You can’t. Uber keeps that information to the drivers. Here’s a clue though. If you are having trouble getting an Uber ride when others around you aren’t, your rider rating is probably low.
8. You can’t pick your driver…except when you can. Once you place an Uber order, the app matches your request with appropriate drivers in your area. You don’t get the choice of driver…you have to go with whomever is assigned. As soon as a driver accepts your order, you’ll get specific info on the driver, their vehicle, the cost, and a pick-up ETA. You do have the option of adding drivers to your favorites list. While that doesn’t guarantee a specific driver will pick you up, it’s all you’ve got.
9. Customized your ride. If you have special needs, whether it be you need to make several stops, you want to pick up an additional rider on the way to your destination, or something like you are travelling with a pet, or you have the need to accommodate a mobility device…those are all requests you can add to your ride request by choosing “Tap to Customize” from the Uber app. In fact you should, otherwise you risk the driver showing up and refusing to give you a ride if they don’t transport pets or if they feel your mobility device won’t fit in their vehicle safely. Note…Uber drivers can accommodate common mobility assist devices like walkers, canes, and collapsible wheelchairs. Larger mobility devices like bariatric wheelchairs, scooters, etc can be a problem. The Uber website has a more complete list of the type of accommodations you can request as well as a dedicated section for Accessibility.
10. Cancellation Fees. You can cancel an Uber any time after you have ordered a ride, but it may cost you. You have a 5 minute grace period from the time you first placed the order (2 minutes if you are using the ridesharing UberPool option). After that, you will likely incur a cancellation fee. If you cancel more than 5 minutes after placing the order (2 minutes for UberPool rides) you will incur a cancellation fee.
Uber is almost everywhere, but with all its pros Uber may not be the best solution for your specific transportation needs. My latest trip to Santa Barbara and San Diego highlighted Uber’s strengths, but if your travels take you to less densely populated areas, or involve longer distances, a rental car may still be your best bet.