The Problem I Have With Uber

The idea is genius.  You can use a modern mobile phone to hail a cab with a professional service, knowing prices up-front, that can be paid for automatically.  No need to wait for a taxi on the street; no need to haggle over prices; no need to fret about the potential final cost; both driver and passenger know that they are both registered with Uber and are therefore both accountable, so the risk of danger is reduced.

Here in Manila, my friends had been encouraging me to give it a try for a long time, even occasionally booking me a trip home at their expense.  The ride home was delightful each time.  I found it hard to go against converting from using regular taxis to the new method.

But the problem I have is that it feels like taking money from the poor to give to the rich, feelings that were strengthened when I read an article that the company have a long term goal of replacing drivers with automated cars.

Then one morning I was late for football and tried Uber.  I went for the pay in cash option and had a great experience.  I waited for about two minutes for the car to arrive, as it turns out the drivers circle our home like vultures.  It was about the same price as a regular taxi and I arrived at the destination early as the driver was using his mobile phone for navigation, to avoid congested areas.  I have used Uber a few times since and it was also very good.

I spoke to the drivers, about their backgrounds.  Their cars really are immaculate and it turns out that many of the drivers are doing this as a sideline and have their own cars.  They are not struggling financially, or at least do not appear to be.  They speak, generally, very good English.  Compare this to your average taxi driver here in Manila who generally do not speak good English, if any, and who often share a car, sometimes driving 24 hours at a time before handing the car over and catching the bus to go home.  They struggle financially.

This stayed on my mind.

So when the next football match came round I hailed a regular cab.  He tried to charge me a ridiculous amount and was then offended when I asked to use the metre.  The next two taxis were the same.  Another was just plain rude, driving off when I said my destination, rather than politely refusing the ride.  Eventually, I found a decent driver, but what a hassle!

Why should I care about the regular taxi drivers when they behave like that?  Sod it, I'll use Uber, they do not help themselves by being such imbeciles.

This was fine until Saturday.  Now, Uber have an excellent feature where you can share a cab.  This brings the price down but also opens it up socially in that you get to meet more people and hear their life stories: I like that!  So, knowing that my route was fairly direct, I opted for a shared cab and was given a price of P108.  I took it.

Unfortunately, the driver made a mistake picking up his other passenger and then went wildly off route to drop her off.  No problem, it's shared.  BUT, the price I was charged was P258.

I assumed there was a mistake and so I contacted Uber who have since told me that this is actually perfectly normal and well within what is expected.  They call it "surge pricing".  Essentially, what this means is that the price can change during the journey, after you have been quoted the price.  I can accept that it might change a small amount, but this is not a small change, it is 250%!!  In what other business does the vendor change the price by more than two and a half times the quote price and then claim it is normal?

With pricing policies like that, this is not a service I can rely on and so I am going to go back to haggling and looking for a decent driver to take me to my destination with regular taxis, accepting that this means I will have to leave my home an extra 20 minutes or so early each time, leaving me plenty of time to find a cab.  It might be tricky to find a good driver but at least this way I know that the fare will be fair and that I am not putting somebody out of a job.

Edit: Uber have since refunded the P160-odd.  They finally confirmed that there was a "software" problem, but only after three emails back and forth where they gave a different reason each time, dismissing my complaint, presumably due to their staff not bothering to read it.  Yes, that is an assumption on my part, because I hope that if they had read my email, they would have seen immediately where the fault was, rather than denying it.  So, it turns out the pricing was in fact wrong, as were the claims that it was normal policy.  However, my other concerns remain valid.

Read on...

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