Uber is a pick-up car service that lets you find a private driver for a taxi journey by using a free app on your smartphone.
Founded in San Francisco in 2009, Uber has proved enormously popular and now operates in 473 cities worldwide.
Uber in the UK is a licensed and regulated service, with the company licensed as an operator by more than 50 councils across the UK, including London.
It's incredibly simple to use and fast, with most customers picked up in less than five minutes. It could spell the end of trying to flag down a black cab after a night out or struggling to remember the number of a local mini-cab firm.
10 essential smartphone apps
How does Uber work?
The Uber app connects you with the nearest available Uber driver using your phone’s GPS to determine your location.
The app texts you when the driver arrives at your location with their details so you can check their identification before getting in the car. An estimate fare is also given in advance.
Once you arrive at your destination, no money changes hand – the fare is simply debited from the payment card linked to your Uber account.
Compared to a comparable cab ride, a journey with Uber is much cheaper, and even offers a choice of car services with differing fares.
Different fare levels range from UberPool, the cheapest option that lets you share the journey with another passenger but pay a separate fare all the way up to UberLux, a high-end luxury car for the ultimate ride in style and comfort. The standard fare level – UberX – is a four-door car for up to four people.
Anyone can be an Uber driver so long as they have a driving licence, their own car and valid insurance, and pass a background check. Uber drivers are an eclectic mix from professional mini-cab drivers to students and those looking to supplement their income with part-time work.
Q We’re planning a break in Madrid. We want to get around as cheaply as possible and have thought about using Uber cabs, which we’ve never done. However, news stories about them are a little discouraging. What are the pros and cons?
Now in its tenth year, Uber was created as the alternative to the established cabs in cities worldwide – London’s black cabs, New York’s famous yellow cabs, etc.
To use Uber, download the app and register with them free, or visit uber.com. You add a credit or debit card when signing up.
When you want to call a cab, tap the app on your smartphone and type in your destination. Then set your pick-up location. The app will display fare, capacity of the car available and estimated journey time. Request Uber and then Confirm Pickup.
The fare is charged to your account when your journey’s completed. You can tip if you want to. What’s more, if there’s a customer nearby who wants to go to the same place then you’ll be offered the chance to share a ride, with the fare automatically divided between your accounts.
It generally appears to provide an economic, reliable and quick-to-respond service. So far, so good. But… whereas city-authorised cabs have
fixed mileage/time fares set by local statute, Uber fares are determined by… Uber.
And here’s the catch. The fare structure is based on ‘dynamic pricing’; depending on driver availability, passenger demand and difficulty of journey, fares can rise considerably.
Uber has been accused of exploitation – ‘price surging’ when there’s a driver shortage and high demand. There are concerns that driver recruitment is less stringent than authority-licensed cabs, that driver conditions are exploitative, that Uber is overly ‘competitive’ – and its huge database was recently hacked.
In Madrid, where Uber’s presence has proved contentious, consider Cabify as an option, an Iberian/Latin American equivalent to Uber in that it’s app-controlled, but with fixed-rate mileage.
Is Uber safe?
Uber hasn’t proved popular with everyone. It has faced protests and legal action from taxi drivers, transport groups and governments worldwide.
In early 2016, London black cab drivers brought much of the capital to a standstill during a protest. They claimed that as Uber drivers don't have to adhere to the same regulations they do, it results in unfair competition.
They argue that unlike black cab drivers who are fully vetted with proficiency in navigating a major city – which in London means doing ‘the knowledge’ – and use independently monitored meters rather than the 'fare calculator' inbuilt into the Uber app to set fares, Uber drivers avoid these restrictions.
However, all drivers who use the Uber app in the UK are licensed and insured for private hire by the local authority. This license includes an enhanced DBS, the same background check required for black cab drivers.
Tips for staying safe in taxis and mini cabs
How do I use Uber?
1. Download the free Uber app from the Apple App Store, Google Play or Microsoft Store onto your respective iPhone, Android or Windows phone. Sign up for an Uber account by tapping Register on the app. You'll need to enter your name, email address, phone number and credit card details.
2. When you’re ready to make a journey, see what car types are available in your area and select one to suit your budget and number of passengers. Enter your pickup location and your destination, then tap the screen to request your car.
3. The app shows the driver’s estimated time of arrival, and details of the driver, including first name, vehicle type, and license plate number.
4. When you arrive at your destination, the fare is automatically charged to the payment card linked to your Uber account. The app will ask you to rate your driver using 1 to 5 stars. Likewise, your driver will rate you as a passenger. This feedback system is designed to help ensure accountability for everyone.
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