So, firstly, this isn’t a review that’s going to focus on ‘Uber employ rapists’. Whilst the topic of vetting of drivers is a critical one, its something that I understand Uber do take steps to ensure and ALL criminals will attempt to beat ALL systems and some will always get through ALL of those systems. I see that as a separate issue that is very serious but not part of the Tech that Uber bring to the market and the overall general customer experience which I’ve chosen to focus on.
For the past few weeks, I’ve undertaken several rides with Uber in London. I’ve been a user of Black Cabs for a number of years so feel that I can objectively compare the two. Having tweeted about issues with Uber, the outcry from some cabbies has been huge and I’ve received a deluge of ‘nightmare’ journeys showing Uber routes around London which are just mind blowingly awful and clearly deceitful. How true any of these are I have no clue and the ‘Uber Urban Myth Machine’ does appear to churn very well.
I must also admit that my sample size for the review isn’t huge but I like to think that all of the journeys I took give a broad spread of off-peak, peak, long and short journeys and are representative. So, here goes.
My first understanding of what Uber is, as a service, was using them with Adam Christianson and Paul Wheatley at Macworld in San Francisco in 2014. I have to say I was impressed with the App, impressed with the ease of acquisition of the service and impressed with the whole experience but that experience was based in a city with a lot of wide streets in the main thoroughfares and we only took short journeys, apart from one to the airport. it was very obvious though that the Uber App is a ‘wow factor’ for sure.
It appeals to the basic instincts of all geeks. You get an ability to call for something using an app and then watch a graphic as the car moves through the local streets to your pickup point. It is overflowing with ‘Cool’. Add in the ability to have a charge sent straight to your Credit Card or PayPal (My Paypal account wouldn’t set up with the App) and an instant ‘Star-Based’ customer rating system for drivers and customers and it ticks an awful lot of boxes.
In comparison, the UK Black Cab system requires you to contact Transport for London (TFL) with any complaints about drivers, licensing or charges and whilst this is very good and ‘internet based’, its not an instant thing and the correct taking of badge numbers and lack of ‘evidence’ can make it a tough process.
There are also several apps in The App Stores for Black Cabs and these work pretty well but are more disjointed than the Uber experience and are ‘Foreign’ to tourists, many of whom will land with the Uber App already installed from their home town and ready to go.
So, how many of you haven’t been able to get a Black Cab in CENTRAL London for a prolonged period?
From my experience, its one of the easiest things in the world to do. I stick out my arm when I see an Orange light and then climb in. Sure, I get the ‘This is my cab’ argument once in a while and at peak times and if there is a Tube Strike, then things can get a little more sparse but generally I get a cab when ever I want to and to be honest, the Black Cab Apps aren’t much help over and above that.
The Uber App doesn’t work outside of the cities where there is an Uber service. I had an issue with a trip and started to try and complain when I got to my home in Birmingham but couldn’t. My Location wouldn’t show and none of my trips would show up either. In order to raise an issue, I had to resort to Twitter to initiate the complaint and then email to get my refund. Complaining within London was very easy however.
This cuts right to the heart of the issue.
Uber is expensive and VERY expensive at times in London. ‘More than Black Cabs’ you say? So why?
This is something which kicks in during peak demand for the service. Having watched this on the App it feels like a ‘time of day’ thing more than a ‘demand’ and ‘lack of cabs’ thing. When it was on, I called for an Uber knowing full well that Triple Charging was in place and a Car came instantly. To be honest I think that this is just a ‘BS’ charge and lots of drivers sit around waiting for a fare at triple rates as a lottery.
At these periods Uber can’t get close to Black Cabs on costs. The same black cab journey at the same time would have cost me half what I was quoted for the journey. The other issue is that at Peak Traffic times Uber’s ‘Meter’ ticks over rapidly and the drivers get themselves bogged down or take ridiculous routes.
At ‘Off-Peak’ Uber has the edge on pricing with a journey from Euston to Archway costing around £12 compared to £15 in a Black Cab. But by ‘off-peak’ I do mean late on weeknights or after 5pm on weekends.
OK, heres the rub. Uber drivers take the crapiest routes going at the wrong times
The problem is that they don’t have a good enough knowledge of the back streets in London. I’m sure that will come in time but they try and navigate The Capitol using a ‘Sat Nav’. Having driven in London for work on many occasions, I can tell you that a Sat Nav is bugger all use…even with traffic management functions. The tendency is to take youalong main arterial routes when the majority of Black Cabs will seek to cross arterial roads and stick to the back streets.
The London Cabbie has to pass a test called ‘The Knowledge’ and they spend hours on small motorbikes driving the lesser know streets to build a knowledge of the best routes from A to B. This pays dividends at peak periods as nearly all Black Cabs will duck and dive through streets to avoid sitting with the meter running and not making progress. Uber drivers won’t do this and as a result, in heavy traffic, the Black Cab is invariably cheaper.
I think also there is a bit of a ‘no win’ for Uber drivers. As their pricing is based on Mileage and Time, should they divert to another route to save time, the costs are pretty much the same due to the higher distance, also if passengers complain and they have deviated from ‘The Uber Route’ then they end up losing out on the refund.
Definitely in Peak Periods when the pressure is on, I have seen greater expense using Uber over Black Cabs
If you are talk about personal aspects, then I can’t tell the difference really.
The majority of London Cabbies I’ve had a ride with have been lovely affable chaps and always up for a good conversation, and whilst a lot more quiet, the Uber Drivers have been decent folk as well.
Uber take a slight lead in that with a large bag, the driver will get out to assist you whereas a London Black Cab has a driver that is a lot more ‘sealed in’, although they do get out if you are struggling. The access to London Cabs is also greater through the door which makes this less necessary.
I’ve had one Uber Driver who sat in an adjacent street telling me that I was in the wrong place right up until I cancelled the journey. All the other drivers have been fine.
The App for Uber provides for instant feedback on drivers and routes and as such is very convenient….BUT
In all of the journeys I took, on 60% of those journeys I had to ask for a refund for overcharging on the estimated price by the Uber App. Now I know that what they provide is an estimate but on one journey quoted at £42, I ended up paying £72 and through a protracted exchange on twitter and email, I eventually got a refund of £27 but the cost of that was still way more expensive than a Black Cab would have been.
Uber seems to give refunds pretty easily, I’m guessing because they just don’t pay the driver. I got refunds in all the cases where I complained but the point is, that I shouldn’t have to complain. If you want to offer a good customer experience, then the service should ‘Just work’ at least 99% of the time and with Uber it doesn’t.
I’ve never had cause to complain about a Black Cab route or charges…Simple!
I’ve put the Uber app away on the back page of all my apps in my iPhone.
To be honest, I didn’t see a benefit in the use of Uber in London and the increase in aggravation was higher in over half the journeys I took. The effort of submitting for refunds to my card and the fact that the App didn’t sync with my PayPal account or work correctly in Birmingham left a nasty taste that just isn’t there with Black Cabs.
Uber needs a LOT of work to improve its presence in London. It will always grab the geek because of the app but in time people will just return to what they can rely on.
In only a few short trips.
- I didn’t save money
- I didn’t save time
- I ended up making work for myself
I have genuinely not found it to be a better experience over London Black Cabs…I’m Gone!