UPDATE 10/21/14: Since Uber is (as of this writing) offering new users a $30 credit to use on their first ride with the service. They’ll also give me a $30 credit for each of you who tries out their service for the first time. Basically, you get up to $30 free on your first ride, then pay the rest if your ride goes over. Sign up via this link for me to get the credit.
Also, Uber has apparently dropped its prices by around 20%. So now it’s much cheaper than a cab in DC, and might be cheaper than a cab in NYC (I’m told). I know I took a 45-minute ride from my mom’s place in the Chicago suburbs to Midway Airport — comparable to going from downtown DC to Dulles Airport — and only paid $27 (and you don’t tip, or pay for calling the car). A cab in DC to Dulles is probably $60. It’s a hugely good deal.
Further update. I’ve now taken numerous trips on Uber over the past month (Uberx, to be specific – that’s their cheapest service), and have to say, it’s gone great. I’ve not run into the peak-pricing problem (where fares increase during certain times, like rush hours). And generally speaking, the fares have been cheaper than the comparable taxi ride. The cars have been nice (my nephew tried to get a job with them, but his car was too old). And my driver today, I had to take Sasha to the vet for a check-up, told me that apparently drivers with better ratings get first dibs on picking people up (you rate your driver online after each ride). So as an Uber user, you should get the highest rated driver who’s free in your area, which is a nice touch.
I particularly like that you can see how long it will take the car to pick you up BEFORE you order it. That way you can decide if the wait is too long. With a DC cab, you’re never quite sure if you’re ever going to be picked up, and when. (You can’t order an Uber car in advance – you can only order it when you want to go, so if you’re going to the airport, that can be an issue – but wasn’t for me when I used it in the Chicago are). Also, Uber’s estimate of the price has been spot on. Every fare has been around the midrange, or less, of what they predicted.
Overall I’m quite impressed, and will keep using them. Even going to the airport, a good 7 mile ride, was cheaper (slightly) than taking a cab. Just pretty impressed all around.
ORIGINAL PIECE 12/16/13: So I took my first trip with Uber today, the taxi alternative, and have to say I’m impressed.
I was going to a Christmas party, about 2 miles away, so decided to finally try Uber, the alternative in DC and many other cities to taking a cab. I hadn’t tried them before because their rates are just too high, far more than a regular cab. BUT, I recently found out that Uber has a service called UberX which is much cheaper than their regular service, and allegedly even cheaper than a regular DC cab.
So, I finally decided to use the free $10 coupon I got via a referral from a friend and tried them out today. It was awesome. And easy to boot. (If you want to sign up for Uber (it’s free), use this link which includes my promo code, and you’ll get a$30 credit (as of this writing) for your first ride, and they’ll even put another $30 credit in my account for each person who signs up.)
How Uber works
Here’s how it works. You go onto their Web site, phone or tablet app, and it’s easy as can be. Once you set up an account, you see a map showing you where you’re located, but you can also enter a specific address. Then you enter the address of where you’re going. You can ask for an estimate first (my estimate was $8 to $9, and in fact the ride came out to $8.20). Then the cool GPS map shows you cars that are in your area, you press the button to request a car (I’m pretty sure you can’t order it in advance, you have to order it when you want it). But make sure first that you select the level of service you want – I wanted UberX, the cheapest one.
Here’s how it looks on the iPhone at a random address just north of the White House:
They tell you how many minutes it will take for your car to get there – mine was 8. It took about 5. You receive a text confirming your request, then a text when the driver is arriving. And the driver even called me too. That was it. I went downstairs, driver was a nice young guy in a nice new SUV type car. He offered me and my friend a tray of candy, and had fresh water bottles at the ready too. It was rather amazing.
When we arrived at our destination, his little computer came up with the fare, $8.20. And since I already had the $10 coupon, the machine already knew, so I didn’t have to pay, we gave him a tip and that was it. Just a wonderful trip. Oh, and there’s no added price for requesting a cab – with DC cabs, you pay a $2.00 dispatch fee if you call a cab rather than hail one on the street.
(UPDATE: Well, I just found out that you don’t tip Uber drivers. My driver was not clear on that point when I offered up a tip. He should have been. So that knocks ANOTHER two dollars off the fare, as I usually round up a dollar and change when I take a cab in town. AND A FURTHER UPDATE: I emailed Uber to ask about the tipping policy re UberX. I got an email back within a few hours, telling me that you absolutely do NOT have to tip on Uber, meaning, unlike with taxis, tips are not expected, required, etc. – it’s something that sets them apart from taxis. They credited me the $2 tip I gave the driver, even though I didn’t ask them to. I liked the driver, just felt he could have made clear that on Uber you don’t need to tip like you do/should with a cab.]
I decided to do some googling, and compare the prices of UberX with regular DC cabs (that don’t always arrive when they say they’re going to arrive). Here’s how it breaks down.
For me, the starting fare on UberX was $3.50. In a DC cab, our starting fare would have been $6.50 because we called to have a cab dispatched and there were two of us. My total UberX fare came to $8.20. My DC cab fare would have been around $10.39, I calculate, judging by a 1.8 mile trip – so I saved a little over $2 on a ten minute cab ride.
Comparing Uber and DC taxis
The per mile fare is slightly cheaper on UberX, but it’s unclear if you pay in $2.16 increments, or whether, like DC cabs, the price goes up by 1/8th of a mile at a time. Also, in a DC cab they only charge you the per minute idling fee after you’ve idled for 60 seconds. I didn’t see any such restriction at Uber.
It seems that for travel in DC, you definitely save money on Uber just on the dispatch fee (if you’re calling a cab rather than trying to find one on the street, which is not always easy), and especially if you’re traveling with someone. It’s less clear what happens if you’re stuck in traffic a long time, then UberX might get pricier. I may try them to the airport (DCA) on Wednesday and see how much it comes out to – I’ll report back.
One final point: Uber does have this odd peak-rate policy where fares can go up if there’s surplus demand. So during a snowstorm, or on New Year’s Eve, you might see fares double, triple, quadruple or more. BUT, they will indicate this at the time you try to book the cab, so there’s zero chance of you paying more and not realizing that the higher fares are in effect (still, I’m not sure if they indicate just how much they raise the fares – I read one report about a gay spending nearly $70 for a trip under a mile during one such peak period – so in my case, I’ll be avoiding them during the peak period).
I will say that this was the cleanest and nicest cab and driver I’ve ever had in this city. And I’ve had more than a few times that I called a cab, even reserved it in advance, and it just didn’t show up.
Can’t rave about the Uber folks enough. And can’t believe I waited this long to try them out.
Once again, if you want to create a new account and get a $30 credit towards your first ride (and help me get a $30 credit as well), use this link to register. Registration is free.