It started innocently enough. Yesterday (Friday, 5 April) there was a bit of chaos on Sydney’s transport network. A train had destroyed some overhead wiring leaving most trains north of the city either delayed or cancelled completely.
So there I was, around midday, looking for a way to get to my next appointment. I was going to take the train, until I realised that the trains were screwed, and the next departure was not for almost 45 minutes. Not good enough.
Then, I remembered I’d installed the Uber app awhile ago, and I hadn’t tried it yet.
For those that know me well, you’ll know I won’t set foot in a taxi unless it’s a matter of life and death. Even then, I’d probably avoid them. I hate taxis with a passion, and taxi drivers even more so. Unfortunately, most of them around Sydney are dangerous, unsafe drivers and I don’t feel a need to support them financially.
Uber Sydney is something a bit different. Unlike a taxi, you can’t book them in advance. You book one when you’re ready to go, and if there’s a driver nearby, they pick you up and off you go to your destination in a shiny, nondescript hire-car. You pay a bit more than what a taxi would charge, but hey, they’re cleaner, and they aren’t taxis. I’ll pay for that privilege.
So back to yesterday. On seeing the train delays, I whipped out the Uber app and had a look at the map. There were a few cars around the city so I figured one wouldn’t be far away. I requested a quote for a trip from Sydney to Chatswood and it told me after a few seconds that it would be around $45. Done! I booked my driver, and was immediately told that my driver, Tony, would appear in a black Holden Caprice in about ten minutes.
Not long after booking I received an SMS advising me my driver was on the way, and I could see his position on the map and literally watch his car approaching. It took about the time estimated — I was told ten minutes at the time of booking, and Tony showed up in around eight. Pretty good service.
As Tony pulled into Wynyard Street (where I was waiting) I received a text saying my driver was arriving, and lo-and-behold, I saw a black Caprice pull into the street. I stepped off the kerb, waved him down, and hopped in. Where to? he asked. Let’s go to Chatswood, I’ll meet someone there for lunch, I replied, and off we went.
While we drove, Tony in the driver’s seat and myself in the rear passenger seat, we spoke about the idea behind Uber and how it works here in an Australian context. Tony told me that the system really favours owner-drivers rather than those who use someone else’s vehicle, as the split of fees for a given trip is 20% to Uber, 40% to the car owner, and 40% to the driver, from which the driver is required to cover tolls, petrol and car washes to keep everything spic an span.
Tony tells me that the system is remarkably easy to use for passengers and drivers alike. While passengers can use the Android app, drivers — for now — use an iOS based app which makes everything nice and simple for them. It is literally a one-handed operation, allowing drivers to accept jobs and update passengers on their ETA while still safely — and legally — driving their car.
As we approached our destination, I asked Tony whether he’d seen an increase in demand for hire car services, particularly from his perspective as a driver, and he said yes he had, but he’d noticed a changing demographic as well — hire cars had, in his experience, been the domain of those with larger incomes in the past, whereas apps like Uber were making them available to the general public at a much greater rate than the past.
Tony dropped me just near Chatswood Westfield, and as I got out of the car he ‘ended’ the trip via his iOS app, and almost instantly, I received an email from Uber advising my trip had concluded, and providing a receipt. This service is so much smoother than riding in a taxi, and what really got my interest was how everything (except SMS) is transacted in-app. After the trip, I received a notification to rate my driver and the trip out of five stars, which I duly did.
The Uber application — through which you access the entirety of the Uber service — is simplicity embodied. It couldn’t be easier to use, and for the convenience it offers if you need to get from A to B, you can’t go wrong.
The app itself is free, though the service — as you’d expect — is not. My trip from Sydney to Chatswood came in at $45.79, which for a 15 minute journey might seem quite expensive. It is. No one ever said having a hire-car with driver was cheap, and Uber doesn’t change that. However, if you need to get somewhere in a hurry, and money isn’t exactly an object, then this is something you should consider as you can organise it from the palm of your hand in mere seconds.
Disclosure: I received a free $50 voucher to try out the Uber service for Ausdroid and used this to pay for my journey to Chatswood.