My experiences with the private car service Uber in San Francisco.
Good: Simple to use mobile app, great premium cars, excellent availability, courteous drivers, no fumbling for cash or credit cards.
Room for Improvement: Drivers barely know where they are without their GPS, so you better have the exact address/intersection you’re going to.
SF Taxi Landscape
SF is a particularly bad place to be a taxi passenger. There are few of them on the roads making it very much a sellers market, and oftentimes as a potential rider in busy areas, one is fighting against many other people also looking for a ride. Taxi dispatch companies often don’t answer their phones, and trying to call a cab is a hit-and-miss experience; sometimes you will get one, sometimes not. Cab drivers frequently don’t respond to calls to their dispatch service for a scheduled pickup, and even if they do, will often time take another fare if approached while waiting for their intended passenger. The companies keep fleets of terrible cars, often in disrepair, filthy, and odorous. Every time I exit a cab in SF, I immediately want to take a shower and burn my clothes.
The mobile application is simple and slick - enabling you to easily call for a car, and track the location/ETA of your driver. It is infinitely superior to the experience of calling a Taxi dispatch company, and having no idea if/when you will get picked up.
I’ve been able to get a car within 5-10 min on 10 out of the 11 occasions I’ve used the service, with the exception of an extremely rainy day where there was very bad traffic in my area at rush hour and the closest car was nice enough to call me and explain how he was stuck in gridlock and wouldn’t be able to get to me in a reasonable time-frame. I’ve recently gone from requesting a car while still in my apartment, to waiting until I’m actually outside, because twice the drivers have arrived faster than I could get downstairs and started calling to see where I was and whether they had the correct location.
The cars have all been great. Usually they are black Lincoln Town Cars, but I’ve also been picked up a couple times in an S-Class AMG Mercedes. There’s always plenty of room in the back seats, and they are a welcome change from the beat-up lousy cabs one gets in SF. Some drivers stock their cars with water bottles and magazines for passengers (that usually prompts an extra tip from me, despite the no-tip-needed policy).
The drivers are very polite, not talking on the phone, smoking, or listening to obnoxious music - quite professional. However, they often don’t know the city as well as some cabbies, and typically need you to provide an exact address or intersection that they can enter into a GPS navigation system in order to find the destination. A couple times they have been unable or unwilling to successfully navigate some one-way streets and intricacies of SF and have had to call and say they are at a nearby corner - asking me to walk to them. This is a minor annoyance, but it’s usually only been a block. Despite pinpointing the location of my building’s entrance on the mobile application’s map interface, the drivers seem to have problems locating my lobby. Cab drivers on the other hand always know my building and how to get there, although I have had many experiences with cabs in SF not responding to calls at all. I just go to the back entrance of my building which is at an easier location, no big deal really.
It’s almost exactly twice as much as a normal cab. But given the convenience, ease of the whole experience (no waiting around to settle the tab & tip at the end of the ride) and the caliber of cars, I’m happy to pay the premium. It was a bit excessive on New Years Eve though, they doubled their prices for the night (but did give plenty of advance warning). They do have various specials, like the odd flat rate airport deal, or discounted rides in certain areas at certain times. I hope one of these named Hipster Thursdays doesn’t degrade the cleanliness of the cars or leave them smelling like PBR ;)
Despite the cost, I absolutely love the service and will continue to use it. I welcome some badly needed competition in this market, and hope it encourages the Taxi companies to step up and offer a better experience to their customers - They have a ridiculous monopoly in on-demand transportation. If I experience anything else notable, I’ll come back and update the review.
If anyone wants a referral/invite to the service, this link will start you off with a $20 credit: Referal Code uber-dpron