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28 August 2014

Taxis beware: Road-testing Uber in Adelaide

ADELAIDE | After using the services of an Uber chauffeur last night – to call him a driver would be to undersell it – I have no doubt that the Uber experience is simply better than the taxi experience.

Above all, the Uber app means speed and knowledge – both qualities that can be lacking in the standard Adelaide taxi experience.

As soon as you tap on the map and summon one of those black luxury sedans to your location you know:

  • Where that car is.
  • How long it will take to get to you.
  • Your chauffeur’s name, photograph and registration number.
  • How much the trip is likely to cost.
  • How the pricing is calculated.
  • How satisfied other customers have been with your driver’s service.

The trade-off for all this information is a great deal of your own: name, phone number, credit card number, Facebook account and email.

However, this means you know exactly whose car you’re getting into, and your driver knows exactly who’s getting into their car.

When I tested the service last night, the car arrived within three minutes of my booking – which involves simply tapping a button on the app. No waiting on the phone; no typing in location details.

The Uber driver simply arrives at your GPS location – or another location you select on the map.

I knew the car was at my city address because the app told me so – in fact, I tracked the car on the app’s map as it approached me on the street in Adelaide’s CBD.

The sleek black sedan pulled up, and the driver confirmed my name. When I slid into the front seat, it was immediately apparent that the car was spectacularly clean and comfortable.

I settled into the sumptuous leather seat next to my driver – the affable, three-piece suit wearing Harry*, who told me he had been been driving luxury cars for more than 20 years.

He was anxious that the next passenger he picked up might be an undercover cop or departmental officer, ready to deliver a threatened $8,000 fine and, much worse, the loss of his driver accreditation.

It would mean the end of a career for him – in the medium term at least.

He keeps the Passenger Transport Act beside him at all times, so he can argue the toss if an officer moves to punish him for contravening it.

The ride was smooth, the conversation was pleasant and the whole process was just so very fast and seamless.

At the end of the trip, the Uber app asked Harry to give me a passenger rating, and asked me to give a driver rating – five stars all around.

If I book an Uber car in future, any prospective driver can be fairly certain that I won’t be an abusive passenger, or run off without paying, and Harry’s future passengers can be fairly certain the service will be excellent.

When I left the car, no money changed hands. I had a $20 coupon provided to me as a part of Uber’s start-up promotions and the ride cost $23 – Harry decided to call it an even $20.

A taxi ride from the CBD to my home in Adelaide’s south-western suburbs usually costs me about $27.

With the ease of booking and tracking my ride, and the luxury of the experience, for the same price or cheaper, why would anyone settle for a standard taxi?

It’s a question the taxi industry will need to address, if Uber manages to survive the Government’s threatened legal onslaught.

* We haven’t used his real name, due to his fears of prosecution.