Uber – the good, the bad and the ugly

People often forget to factor land transport costs into their holiday budget. If you’re staying in one place and not venturing too far afield this doesn’t matter, but if you want to explore the region transport can become a significant cost.

One way to reduce taxi costs is to use new kid on the block, Uber. Uber has been taking the world by storm and is currently available in 67 countries. To get an Uber account you need to join up and register your credit card online. When you want to book a ride, you log into your account and a GPS locates where you are and tells you if there is a driver in the area. If you book the ride, you receive a photo of the driver, the make and registration number of the car and an estimated ETA. You can even track the car online so you know exactly how long you will have to wait.

We’ve used Uber in Australia and Bali and the information in this blog is based mainly on our experiences.

The good

In Bali, Uber is available in the south west, including the gridlocked suburbs of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. They also go to Ubud and to the airport. The advantages for the customer are obvious, you don’t have to haggle over a price before you start your journey or watch the meter ticking while you’re stuck in horrendous traffic, and the rates are much cheaper.

2015-12-19 13.15.30You also don’t need to deal with money. We caught a normal taxi from Canggu to Legian because Uber cannot pick up fares in Canggu. The driver was vehemently against Uber and kept referring to ‘fucking Uber’, but he provided a good example of why Uber is taking off in Bali. He was on a meter and we were racking up a big bill while stuck in gridlocked traffic, then when it came to pay he tried old Balinese taxi driver trick of claiming not to have any change in order to get a big tip from us.

Perth Airport – by Sean McClean (Wikimedia)

In Australia, Uber fares are about 20% less than normal taxis. When we got back to Perth early in the morning on New Year’s Eve we got an Uber ride from the airport to Fremantle. The usual fare is over $60, but the Uber ride cost us about $45. The driver had just dropped someone off so was with us within minutes and he was happy because he lived near Fremantle so got a paid trip home.

We discovered that he was an ex taxi driver who has defected to Uber and is very happy about the change. For a start he no longer has to pay over $500 a week for taxi plates and he finds being an Uber driver much more relaxed. No money changes hands as all Uber transactions are done automatically via a registered credit card. This has taken the tension out of his job. No one likes asking for money and he often had a few hundred dollars in his pocket and felt vulnerable operating at night.

The bad

Uber hasn’t been in Bali for very long and the drivers we spoke to said that the rates were too low (about a third of normal rates). This makes it difficult for drivers to earn a decent wage, especially on the Ubud run – the rate for this trip is about 100,000RP, which doesn’t even cover the fuel. Uber has told drivers the rates will rise after an introductory period, but no one seemed to know when that would be.

Uber charges a fee for cancellations made more than five minutes after requesting a driver. You can read in my last blog about how we ordered a taxi from Kuta to Padangbai and were charged a cancellation fee because the driver wasn’t allowed to drive that far. We later had the money reimbursed to our account.

In Bali it can take a while for an Uber cab to reach you, even if they are nearby as, in most of the areas they operate, the traffic is gridlocked. However, if your driver is running more than five minutes behind the provided ETA, you won’t be charged a fee if you cancel. We waited nearly half an hour for our Uber driver to reach us in Seminyak and during that time we had to fob off dozens of normal taxis who wanted to pick us up.

The ugly

When there is more demand for Uber vehicles than there is supply (for example, during bad weather, on public holidays, as a result of public transport failure, etc.), Uber raises its prices to encourage more drivers to pick up passengers.

This happened on New Year’s Eve.

Fireworks by Kurume-Shimin (Wikimedia)

We went to a party a couple of kilometres away from home and were about to order an Uber ride back at about 1.30am when a friend offered us a lift home. We were very grateful to her when we heard the next day how much the ‘surcharge’ had been. Rates were increased by up to nine times the regular price and one Perth man was charged $332 for a 20km ride that would normally have cost $37.

Giving people who have entrusted you with their credit card details nasty surprises like that is, in my view, an unwise move by Uber. In response to complaints, Uber said that customers had to confirm they were prepared to pay the higher fare before the booking was verified … but on New Year’s Eve many of the people requesting rides may not have had all their faculties intact!


4 thoughts on “Uber – the good, the bad and the ugly

  1. I hear good and bad..just like you said. I know a guy who drives for it in PA. I don’t think he has done all that well. I don’t have much occasion to use it.
    I am enjoying life as well. Very busy with people over the holidays and am happy to be settling down back to normal. I love people, but being an introvert, I need a lot of alone time.
    I hope your new year is a really really good one. It’s nice to connect with you. I’m glad you are having fun.


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