I’m uber-pleased with my 1st ride on Uber (taxi alternative)

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.

uber-vs-dc-cabFor 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.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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  • exec3

    …tip included? I can confirm that isn’t true. Uber rates don’t account for tip. Driving is a service industry, so I do tip my drivers.

  • wwww
  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    You can’t always get what you want. I have friends who I have picked up at the Bob Hope (Burbank) Airport. However, there’s only one airline that has service between Minneapolis and Burbank, and I won’t deal with that airline.

  • nicho

    Just don’t use the service during a “surge” period or you could go broke.

  • april2000

    Please don’t support uber. The taxi union works very hard to secure their wages. By supporting a private business, you are undercutting the union. There is a taxi workers alliance in every city. Uber may provide better service, but it undercuts those laborers.

  • Tour Travels

    Nice John, nice information about taxi service. I don’t known clear but it expensive according to me .


  • Tour Travels

    Nice John,

  • RyansTake

    “let’s not overtip these folks”

    Are you in anyway suggesting drivers are overpaid? That sentence gave me the same inner-gut reaction I had when I watched execs on Wall Street sipping champaign from high above while watching Occupiers march while having to worry about being tear gassed by the police.

  • RyansTake

    In what way is this different than a taxi? That isn’t clear from the blog. When I first read this, I almost expected there’d be no driver or something.

  • judybrowni

    No one uses LAX from Pasadena: Burbank airport is closer.

  • vaz

    You are misled. Tip is for drivers and uber doesn’t transfer the so called tips to drivers. That’ just one.

  • dcinsider

    That’s a local issue I suspect, and I have no doubt if it’s true will be addressed locally. It has nothing to do with Uber’s overall service internationally.

  • Nitin

    For $20 credit use code 0rrv0 for first time users 100% success rate

  • Clarence789

    UberX does not follow local laws in my area. Airports here prohibit drop off and pick up by paying services that haven’t paid an airport tax. Uber hasn’t paid, and I bet individual drivers haven’t either.

  • massysett

    Is there something wrong with an older person as a driver? I’m not talking about Bob Barker old, but what’s with pointing out “young” so much?

  • SocraticGadfly

    Bingo on “hailing” vs phoning, and people doing that with traditional cabs, too. C’mon, folks; Uber’s got a bunch of its drivers on call within a few blocks of swanky hotels in major cities. And, per Slate, shock me that a Brat Pack neolib like Matty Y wrote that article.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Indeed, in San Fran, after an accident, it was discovered that Uber didn’t have a universal liability insurance policy. Getting around stuff indeed.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Nice, John. So now you’re at the top of a Ponzi scheme, or MTM marketing. Either way, uhh … please don’t lecture others about ethics in the future.

  • Tatts

    Uber has been screwing people left and right in many cities. Most recently in Philly with their “surge pricing”.

    From Philly.com: “Over the weekend here in Philly, reports from Twitter indicate that Uber drivers were charging an average of three times the usual rate thanks to the snow that came our way. One man even paid $75 to go less than a mile:”
    Heavy traffic? Surge pricing.
    High demand? Surge pricing.
    An inch or two of snow (this weekend)? Surge pricing.

    Finally from Philly.com: “Bad, sure, but not as bad as the rates in cities like New York and Chicago that topped out at seven times the average charge.”

    Taxis? Regulated rates 24/7/365.

  • AnitaMann
  • goulo

    Interesting – thanks for the info!
    I wasn’t even thinking much about hail-ability; where I live, people usually call taxis in any case rather than hailing them.

  • dcinsider

    I guess my point is that there seems to be no need to “save” cab companies. They do not provide a public service, they treat their employees like garbage, and they are unreliable. If that is the result of over-regulation, then government has a role, but remember that taxi medallions are government approved monopolies for cab companies, and they are lucrative.

    The “average Joe” could not afford a medallion in most US cities. But, a college kid can pick up extra money by driving for UberX.

    So, if the regulations are the problem, then limit the regulation for cabs. However, I think the real problem is an industry that did not adapt to changing times, and resents those who did. We’ve seen this play before.

  • Mete

    Security is the essence of riding any car in any place. Please don’t ride a car whose driving them the car is not know well. Your life is un-replaceable and is utmost importance.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    I don’t have sympathy for the cab companies and their history of strong-arming, greed and anticompetitive tactics, but it’s not really accurate to say this is simply a “company with a new idea”. Uber is a cab company that has structured things such that they can avoid some of the biggest operating expenses of cab companies. If the municipalities in which they operate are able to classify them as cab companies and make them operate under the same regulations, then you’ll see them “adapt or fail”.

    ps, thanks for the Slate link below, interesting article.

  • dcinsider

    Agreed. I sound like I work for Uber I just realized, but it is so much better than DC cabs, I can’t believe anyone gets in a cab anymore.

  • dcinsider
  • dcinsider

    It’s a livery service. You cannot hail an Uber, like a taxi. As a livery, they can carry passengers according to their agreements. They are licensed in accordance with local laws, but they do not possess a taxi medallion.

  • dcinsider

    Cab drivers had the transportation monopoly for decades in American cities, they let customer service drop in favor of making more money, and they let inexperienced drivers who often did not know how to get from point A to point B in a city be their company face. In DC and Boston, they often promised to arrive and never came, leaving customers stranded and desperate.

    Along comes a company with a new idea. Now the cab companies complain because their monopoly is threatened, and they never bothered to harness technology to improve their business until a new company came along and cleaned their clocks.

    I have NO SYMPATHY for the cab companies. As for the drivers, they are victims of an industry that failed them, like so many American institutions before them. Adapt or fail is the reality.

    Uber and other similar companies will make cab companies obsolete in the major cities, and I say good riddance!

  • dcinsider

    They are not “getting around” anything. They follow local laws and regulations when they launch in a city, almost always with opposition from local taxi companies. Those of us who live in large cities depend upon reliable cabs, which, sadly, do not exist in most major cities. Uber creates a legal alternative to the traditional cab service.

    Competition is good.

    As for cab drivers, perhaps they will strive to provide better service, and become competitive with Uber and other companies, because my experience with cabs is that they smell, the drivers are rude, and they show up when they feel like it. Also, we know cabs in major cities often drive by minorities rather than pick them up, which does not happen with Uber.

    in short, sometimes a better idea is just a better idea.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    Here’s an interesting article about Uber’s “surge” pricing, which increases prices in response to unusual demand. Apparently people are finding surge pricing happening more often, and the reasoning for the increases opaque.


  • dcinsider

    I believe only the taxi option has a tip feature, which defaults to 20%. Otherwise tip is included, including UberX, but I found nothing on the website specifically about UberX tipping.


  • Not that Uber will ever be available way the heck out in my neck of the American rural southwest, but “how/why are they cheaper?” is always one of those questions I try to ask whenever something seems almost too good to be true.

    It looks to me like one way is they’re getting around the licensing and regulations normally needed for taxi and livery services.

    Definitely though, I think the old taxi service systems are in trouble, except maybe in ultra-dense places like NYC. The businesses themselves remain viable, but clearly the drivers aren’t benefiting from the ever escalating fares.

  • I’ve read that with Uberx the tip isn’t included (that 20%), but at the same time, I’ve also read that it’s not expected. I don’t understand if it is or isn’t.

  • I’d be interested in hearing about the wages, no idea. I will say that the car showed up, which is not always a guarantee in DC. It showed up when it said it was going to show up. The care was new and big and nice. The driver was young, friendly, and clean. All of those are not guarantees in DC. Oh, and as noted, it was cheaper. Fair question about wages, but DC cabbies are always complaining to me about wages being terrible.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    They had a report on this on NPR recently. A woman who drives a cab in LA was saying that she had a relative tell her that they’d tried Uber and how great it was, and she was like “You do understand that they’re killing my income right now, right?” The cab companies in LA said they were trying to respond with better customer service experiences but were saddled with fixed costs Uber isn’t.

    Right now the cab companies are really hamstrung. Individually, most of them aren’t able to grow capacity like Uber can — to add a car they need a car, a license and a driver, while Uber just needs a hairy foam mustache and a willing warm body. The cab companies could all join forces and create a single app that would let you call any nearby cab regardless of company but that would seem to be a huge organizational and technical hurdle.

    I’m guessing that most cab drivers are independent contractors and don’t have access to collective bargaining either, but not sure.

  • I’m also seeing that unlike many taxi drivers who are affiliated with the AFL-CIO, Uber is non-union.

    I appreciate John’s positive experience, but I’m wondering if it doesn’t come with a price. As in, the drivers are getting crappier wages and benefits because they have no representation or collective bargaining.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    The taxi services argue that they’re no different — they just get around having to pay the same city fees or abide by the same regulations, so can offer cheaper service.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    You’re right about the expense. I visit LA a couple times a year. A couple years ago, I needed a taxi from Pasadena to LAX. I called ahead to get estimates. I ended up going with a limo service. For just a few extra dollars, I had a driver come up to my door, carry my suitcase out and put it in the trunk, hand me a bottle of water and a some magazines, and carry my suitcase to curbside checkin.

  • AnitaMann

    Here in LA, city hall has been trying to shut down these services. Powerful taxi lobby here. And the worst and most expensive taxi service of any city in any western nation.

  • Indigo

    IU-Bloomington, Ph.D., 1971. Native born Hoosier! Go big Red!

  • Butch Fries

    I was confused by that, too. I guess living midway between Escanaba and Iron Mountain I really don’t have to worry about it because I doubt Uber will be coming here anytime, well, ever, but I didn’t understand a lot of this article.

  • How is Uber different from regular taxi or livery services? Is it just the fact you can summon one on your smartphone?

  • dcinsider

    Welcome to Uber! I’ve used Uber for well over a year now, and they are fantastic. I use the for airport pickups on business, when I’m traveling in other cities (SF, LA, Chicago), and to drive me in DC when I want to drink and don;t want to drive. Frankly, DC cabs are disgusting, and the drivers are worse. Uber creates the competition in a marketplace that makes the cab companies clean their cabs and smarten up.

    UberX is a nice option as well, though I refer the black car :) You can also split fares if you want with another frined with the Uber app, and the tip is included.

    John, you mentioned that you tipped the driver, but the tip is included. let’s not overtip these folks or you’ll force the rest of us to do the same :0

    So, for all who intend to try Uber, rememebr, the tip is already included in the fare!

  • Nashville Nobody

    I live “next door” to you and didn’t have a single problem yesterday with a few dozen Disqus loads. I have seen problems in the past, few of which lasted for any length of time.

  • Remember that UberX is the cheaper service, regular uber is pricey IMHO

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I’m very fond of Bloomington. I graduated from IU. I also lost my virginity there. Both of those are pretty important events in my life.

  • bkmn

    The downside of Uber is customer service when something doesn’t go right. The 800 number has a recording that says they don’t check voicemail often, so send them an email. I sent an email but they took over 9 hours to respond.

    I was just glad I wasn’t waiting out in the Minnesota cold for them to get back to me.

  • caphillprof

    I think you are missing a taxi license

  • caphillprof

    Is there a university town in south central Indiana other than Bloomington? Why not just say Bloomington and be done with it.

  • Moderator3

    DISQUS does have its hiccups.

  • HeartlandLiberal

    How do local laws governing taxi companies work for this company, are they licenses as another taxi company, but they have just figured out how to leverage technology to do a better job? I have never heard of them. But then, I live in a university town in south central Indiana. I just asked the Google about Uber, and was told this:

    Uber can afford it. It recently raised a $258 million round of funding from Google Ventures and is valued at $3.4 billion.

    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/uber-x-offers-free-rides-to-undercut-lyft-2013-9#ixzz2ndww8PcI

    P.S. All day yesterday comments from Disqus would not load in any browser I tried. Today they loaded on first try on this, first story I have looked at today. All I got yesterday was the Disqus twirly and an error message telling me Disqus had timed out, and click to Reload.

    Is anyone else experiencing this problem?

    Since I am on a business class 50/10 high speed Internet connection here at home, which I test regularly with multiple speed test to make sure it is delivering, I don’t think it is my Internet connection that is the problem. I sometimes wonder if the nearly 50 or more URLs and links embedded in each page are just competing for attention in painting the page, and Disqus just times out before it gets its turn to load the comments. I Googled and discovered many others have experienced this sort of problem all over the Innertubes for the past couple of years, so it appears it is a problem with Disqus that comes and goes.

    I had to login to Disqus again just now before posting this, and the login dialog after I entered creds went blank and never closed. But I managed to refresh the screen and comments showed, including what I had already typed in.

    Maybe yesterday was just a really bad day for Disqus?

  • goulo

    How is it not a taxi? You pay a driver to take you in a car from one place to another…? It just sounds like a more upscale/hi-tech taxi service which (for marketing purposes) doesn’t actually use the word “taxi”.

    Is there something I’m missing? :)

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Well, I signed up, and the app is installed on my phone. I was happy to see that Uber pretty much covers all of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. I really don’t use taxis very often, but I will give them a try the next time I need a taxi.

  • rerutled

    I use Uber in Montreal, where it provides Taxi service. This is how Taxi services should be in the age of smartphones. Location services pinpoints you on a map. Hit a button to show you want a cab. Thirty seconds later, you get a response that a cab is coming with an estimate for how long it will take to arrive. The map constantly updates, showing precisely where your cab is, as it heads toward you. When it arrives at your location, you get an SMS text — handy, if you’re inside at home, or in a bar, and you don’t want to wait outside. You get in, cab takes you to where you want to go, and when you arrive, you say “Thanks!” and pop out, no money exchanges hands! Uber has your credit card, which is automatically charged, along with your profile’s standard tip amount (which you can change mid-ride, should something go wrong, or right). Receipt is emailed to you, and shows up in the app as well — which is excellent for those of us who travel around town on business. You can star-rate your driver, and add a comment after the ride is over. There are other options, too, like splitting a fare between two Uber users. If you own a smartphone, there are no circumstances under which the traditional cab option is better — none.

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