5 Ways Uber Is Really Different From a Regular Taxi

Paying for the Privilege
Brendan Kownacki rides in the UBER Car that he beckoned via a smartphone app. He pays a little more for an Uber ride than he would for a cab, but he says it's worth it. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Uber is more expensive than a taxi. In fact, Uber will tell you that straight up. But since it's not paying for medallions or other regulatory fees, why pay more? According to Uber, passengers are getting "reliability, customer support ... style, and comfort." In most cases Uber cars arrive more quickly than taxis, saving time and frustration if not cold, hard cash. Style and comfort depend on the car and the refinement of your sensibilities.

Thanks to big data and the non-magic of algorithms, Uber knows when you want a car most, and it knows how much you're likely willing to pay for it. Uber uses surge pricing during rush hour, over holidays and in bad weather. The idea is to entice more Uber drivers to get out there and give rides, which means riders will be picked up more quickly. And, on the upside, your credit card is on file with Uber via the app. When the ride is over, you just hop out without that horrible haggle with the driver when you want to use a credit card. The driver's Uber app will tell the system what to charge you based on time and distance — just like a taxi, but a little more expensive.

Author's Note: 5 Ways Uber Is Really Different from a Taxi

Right smack in the middle of this assignment, I got a chance to try out Uber for myself. (Uber isn't offered in the city where I live because local regulations so far prohibit it.) I was travelling for work, so I used Uber to get from the Detroit airport to my hotel. I got a new driver in a new-ish Toyota Camry. My luggage did indeed go in the trunk next to his kids' toys, which was oddly reassuring. How bad could a young dad be? I gave him the address of my hotel downtown, one of the largest in the city and also the world headquarters of GM. You know, the auto maker. In Detroit. My driver, like a lot of suburban dwellers across the land, didn't really go downtown much, so he didn't know where my hotel was. We took a couple of wrong turns. We circled a roundabout. Twice. But he was so nice, and we put our heads together to successfully drop me off at my hotel. I didn't ding him in my short starred review for being new on the Uber job, but I did mention his newness on the job. In the end, it was more pleasant than a cab and roughly the same price. I'd give it another go in another city. But I took a shuttle back to the airport when it was time to leave.

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  • Flegenheimer, Matt. "$1 Million Medallions Stifling the Dreams of Cabdrivers." The New York Times. Nov. 14, 2013. (Sept. 3, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/nyregion/1-million-medallions-stifling-the-dreams-of-cabdrivers.html
  • Streitfeld, David. "Rough Patch for Uber Service's Challenge to Taxis." The New York Times. Jan. 26, 2014. (Sept. 3, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/technology/rough-patch-for-uber-services-challenge-to-taxis.html
  • Uber. "Comparing Uber to Cabs' Hidden Costs." Uber.com. (Sept. 3, 2014) http://blog.uber.com/2011/04/11/uberdata-the-hidden-cost-of-cabs/
  • Uber. "Uber Background Checks." Uber.com. April 25, 2014. (Sept. 12, 2014) http://blog.uber.com/driverscreening
  • Velasco, Schuyler. "In Uber vs. taxi companies, local governments play referee." Christian Science Monitor. July 7, 2014. (Sept. 3, 2014) http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2014/0707/In-Uber-vs.-taxi-companies-local-governments-play-referee-video


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