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Tales from Uber

If you haven't heard of Uber by now, you might be living under a rock.

Or maybe you just emerged from a coma?  If so, welcome back! Trump's running for President. Bacon is still delicious.

And Uber is a ride sharing service that was founded in 2009 and has roughly a $60B valuation (more than Ford or GM).  On Christmas Eve 2015, they gave their BILLIONTH ride.  Impressive!

But here's the surest sign it's here to stay: It's become a verb.

I've been "ubering" for about 3 years now. In fact, I snapped this pic the other night on my way home with Victor in his Toyota Camry. (It looks like there's nobody behind the wheel, but he's actually up there -- he was just... tiny.)

With the Uber app, professional drivers, ex-yellow cabbies and regular Joes and Janes come pick you up at the tap of a screen. Chauffeurs aren't just for millionaires anymore! Uber brings that luxury to the masses.

And while there are plenty of Camrys in their fleet, occasionally you get lucky with an Escalade, Suburban, Land Rover, Mercedes, or BMW.  That's nice.

Because nobody feels like a baller getting out of a minivan taxi that stinks like somebody's dinner.

Uber is for the people, by the people. There's no question they've permanently changed the taxi industry. But in order to truly enjoy the experience, you must immediately dismiss the idea that the total stranger who just picked you up is a murderer, kidnapper, drug dealer, pimp, or gun smuggler.  After all, you have their name, photo, license plate, and rating -- that's more than you get with a cab.

And Kalamazoo aside, I don't believe serial killers use apps that track their every move.

In fact, you meet some very cool people behind the wheel. Some drive full time, others just for extra cash.  I met a guy who was the only member of his family to survive the Haiti earthquake and was trying to get himself through medical school.  And the CFO of Steve's Ice Cream who was driving because they weren't pulling paychecks while building their business.  One guy picked me up in a special van -- he was in a wheelchair because he didn't have arms or legs -- and he drove great.  There was a guy in San Francisco who just did this on the way home from work so somebody would pay him to commute.  I even met a guy who kept free hot coffee in the car during the day and cold pizzas on weekend nights so he would get high marks.

I could go on.  Suffice it to say, it's an interesting mix.  But for the past year, I've done something really crazy.

No, no, I'm not driving for Uber (I don't like strangers and I don't have a car...yet). It's that I've taken HUNDREDS of Ubers from Feb 2015 until now.

533, to be exact.

Yes, you read that right.  Five HUNDRED thirty three.

I can feel you judging me.

I know this sounds bananas.

That's more than one a day!

Fact is, I've been commuting from Hoboken to NYC every day, to and from work, with everyone's private driver, Uber.  It started innocently enough... it was winter and I was cold.  I couldn't bear to walk 4 blocks along the river to the PATH trains, and another 4 loooong blocks in the city when I got out.

So I ubered. My office is at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. It took 15 mins vs. the normal 45. I'd be crazy NOT to.

I went back to my normal commute the next day, and they cancelled midtown PATH service to 33rd Street.  Only service to downtown -- World Trade Center -- was working.  This happened probably every 4-6 weeks. And every single time it gave me a panic attack.  All these years later, I still can't be in that building.

So that happened.  And it's exhausting doing flights of stairs and walking long distances now that I have this amazing chronic illness.

Well, that one cold day in February turned to two, then a week, then a month, then... you get it.

I also uber when I'm traveling -- I've used it in 8 cities over the past year.  But only about 15% of the 533 rides was work-related.  The rest of the cars are mine.

You'd think after spending FIVE figures with Uber in a year, they'd send me a muffin basket or something, but NOOOOOOO.

(And I know that sounds outrageously extravagant, but I have very few vices left in life.)

I'm an Uber VIP (obvi), and while there are basically zero tangible benefits to that distinction, I have learned a thing or two about this company.

Take these facts for a spin:
  • DRIVERS ARE ALWAYS NEARBY: Uber's driver app includes a heatmap to show them where active accounts are -- the greater the concentration of signals, the better the chance somebody will need a ride. That's why they're rarely more than 10 mins away.
  • ALL DRIVERS ARE NOT EQUAL: Uber classifies its drivers in four ways: Pros (Uber Black luxury drivers), Crossovers (professional drivers on Uber for less than 6 months), New Enthusiasts (amateurs who drive with UberX consistently), and Part-Timers (drivers who have another job and just drive UberX occasionally for extra cash). 
  • 1 IN 10 DRIVERS ARE LADIES: 14% of Uber drivers are women. The company says they plan to have 1 million female drivers by 2020.
  • THE CAR SHOULD BE NEW-ISH: Uber cars must be less than 10 years old and be four-door models. Once a person applies as a driver, a Pro-level driver in the area is asked to inspect the car and go for a test drive with the applicant. All drivers must also be over 21 and have been driving for at least 3 years.
  • RATINGS MATTER, SORT OF: Ratings are another form of currency on the Uber platform. But most drivers don't have time to look at a passenger's rating before they accept a ride -- they only have a few seconds to decide before the fare gets passed to another driver. But if a DRIVER'S ratings drop below 4.6 (on a scale of 5), that's no bueno. They could get kicked out of the club -- though after this week, they'll need to receive a warning. If you're curious about your own rating, you can ask a driver or email and they'll tell you.
  • THEY DON'T KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING: You put in your destination, but the driver doesn't know it until they pick you up. Then GPS takes over (most prefer Waze).
  • EVERYONE HATES SURGE PRICING: Except for Uber. Pricing goes up based on an algorithm that estimates demand.  It could be because it's rush hour, or bad weather, or a holiday, or just that it's Friday night but when demand goes up, prices follow. I've seen it skyrocket to as much as 3x the normal price. Uber says it isn’t about gauging riders, its an incentive to get more drivers on the street to cater to the increased demand.  Uh huh.
  • YOUR TIP MAY (OR MAY NOT) BE INCLUDED: Because the app is linked to your credit card, a passenger gets in and out without any money changing hands. Drivers keep 80 percent of that fare and Uber takes 20 percent. Accepting tips is against Uber policy because they say they've adjusted the time and distance calculations to include a gratuity.  Drivers say otherwise because it isn't a separate line item in their statements. Since I pay a $20 NJ fee to AND from the city (and the toll is only in one direction -- and half the price), that's plenty tip for me.

Uber isn't the only game in town, but it's the best.  Sure, there's Lyft, Via, Sidecar (RIP) and a bunch of others.  But really, who ever lyfted home from work?

Before I ride off, I do have one last confession: After all this time, I'm kinda over Uber.  How can this BE?  I know, it's like saying you're over chocolate, or babies or sunshine.  But spending all this time in OTHER people's cars has made me crave my own.

So, next I'll be car shopping -- I just might be ubering to the dealership.

Do YOU have a tale from Uber?  Share it below...

tags: pop culture, technology, travel


Anonymous said...


chris said...

Holy shit thats a lot of Ubers!!!!! Do you ever get the same man twice????