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Saturday, February 21, 2015

My LA Uber Experience

Los Angeles is a city where you simply cannot survive without a car. It's spread out over miles and miles, its public transit isn't great, and particularly as a visitor, it's hard to confine yourself for more than a day to an area where you can be a pedestrian.

Normally, renting a car would be a de rigueur component of any trip to LA, however last weekend, I flew in for a couple of days to go to a dear friend's wedding party. As I anticipated the entire trip would consist of going from the airport to the hotel, then to the wedding party, back to the hotel and airport again, with a lot of alcohol filling the latter half of events, I figured it would be easier just to use taxis.

Then I remembered Uber.

I downloaded the Uber app onto my smartphone just before the trip, with the whole process only taking a couple of minutes.

For those unfamiliar with it, although I assume by now it's only few who aren't, Uber is an app-based service by which you can order a car. That may sound like just using an app to order a taxi, but the Uber experience is slightly different.

You have a choice of the type of transport cars you order with Uber, and taxis are one of those choices, as are limos and SUV's, and just regular guys in their regular cars who have signed on to the service. One of the recent drop-outs from the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race incomprehensibly made banning Uber one of her main campaign planks. Her rationale has something to do with Uber not being safe due to a single instance of a woman having been raped by an Uber driver in India.

Actually, Uber has more safeguards than regular taxis, and North America is not India, where there has been more than one occurrence of women have been gang-raped on public buses. And in North America, there has been a number of sexual assaults committed against female clients by taxi drivers. But we don't see calls in North America for bans on taxis or public buses. But in Toronto, we have a taxi industry that is very threatened by Uber and is trying to use its influence, unfairly as far as I'm concerned, to kill the competition.

It's understandable in that taxi companies have good reason to be afraid; Uber is far better than taking a regular taxi, and it costs less.

Here's why Uber beats taxis:

With Uber, you order your car and a driver gets assigned. Before it arrives, you will get a communication with your driver's name, license number, a picture of your driver, and a link to both phone and text/email your driver, as well as an estimated time of arrival, which is never more than a few minutes.

You don't get that with taxis.

When your Uber car arrives, you get a text letting you know it's there.

When your Uber ride is over, you get out of the car, period. You don't have to reach for your wallet and find the money for the ride and wait for change, because all Uber transactions are done through the credit card you used when you registered your account.

Want to send an Uber car to pick up your kid from school, or your mom from a shopping trip? It's just as easy as ordering Uber for yourself.

Now here's an extra reason that Uber is great. The Uber drivers are really, really polite. I'm sure that may in part be due to the screening process selecting exceptionally nice people, but there's another reason. When your ride is done, you rate your Uber driver from one to five stars. Those drivers want high ratings. Because when you get your ride assigned, you can actually decline particular divers and request another. Drivers have incentive to keep their ratings high in order to stay in demand, the same way eBay sellers want their ratings to be high so that buyers have confidence in them.

But there's something else that makes the Uber experience really interesting. The drivers rate you!

So a driver might actually decline to pick you up if you consistently get rated as an asshole.

Incentivizing civility is a brilliant idea. I only wish some of my ex-girlfriends had publicly accessible ratings I could have found out about so that I could have declined some in advance. But that's another story.
Denny's on S. Bellanca

My flight had been delayed and I got into LAX and out of the airport after midnight. I took a car rental shuttle for the ride that took me a few block from the airport so I could pop into the nearby Denny's, get a coffee, and order my first ever Uber ride.

After only a few sitting in the mild evening air, on some wooden benches outside Denny's, Herbie showed up. We made it from LAX to Wilshire and Rodeo Drive, with some side-trips to find a late-night Ralph's before 2 am when they stop selling booze for the night. Herbie got me to a Ralph's 5 minutes to 2. I popped in and a few minutes later, exited with shopping bags filled with rum, beef jerky, a giant Hershy's bar, and large bottles of Coke Zero, mango juice and apple juice.

Then it was off to Beverly Hills and the hotel. Herbie, was friendly, cheerful, and because it's LA, he is also a movie director who gave me a dvd of his most recent film. It actually stars people I've heard of. Seriously.

And the whole ride cost about $33.

I used Uber a few more times over the weekend and all the rides arrived quickly, used efficient routes, were in clean cars driven by polite drivers, and cost me less than taxis.

I'm an Uber convert.

Oh, and I got an offer from Uber that if someone signs up with my code, they get $20 off their first Uber ride (if used within 3 months of signing).  So go ahead and use this code and you're supposed to get a free ride up to twenty clams!

Here's the code: bztsj  - I think I also get a ride if you use the code :-)

You can download the app at Uber.com

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