Uber’s Last Block Problem

4 minute read

Compared to a Taxi, the Uber experience is refreshing. In their own rating system it is a solid 4 stars. After riding with the service over 50 times, I can consistently say the worst part of the entire experience is what I call the “last block” problem. The time from when the Uber driver is about 1 block away, to actually getting into the car and beginning the journey are the only parts of the system that disappoint. The short minutes described below are all that’s left (for me anyways) lacking for that final star.

Where am I?

Geolocation allows a reasonably accurate representation of where the rider is standing and Uber’s interface allows the rider to refine that with a location pin. Using the pin, one can precisely point to where the rider is (or will be) located. The driver doesn’t see this precise location, instead they get an address. Uber’s pin-location to address translation (or whomever’s geolocation service they are using) is far from accurate. My building receives an incorrect address leading to repeated confusion with drivers. Reporting this to Uber elicits the response that the correct thing to do is click on the address represented and manually change it. This feature is not obvious, especially if the rider is at a location for which the street address isn’t known. The pin-location is actually a much better way to represent location and could give the driver a much better idea of where the rider wants to be picked up. It should be shown to the driver.

Now or Soon?

After getting past the point of the driver navigating to the rider’s location, the next opportunity for breakdown in the experience is timing. From discussing this at length with numerous Uber drivers, it seems that there are two general behaviors that riders exhibit, which are difficult for drivers to predict. Some riders are standing in the pickup location already when calling for the ride or time their arrival at the pickup location to precede the driver’s arrival. Some riders expect to wait until being notified of the car arriving before getting up and walking out to meet the car. Because of the riders who fall into the second case, many drivers get close to the pickup area, then wait, or call the rider to determine if they are ready (especially in pickup locations where the driver is concerned about being unable to wait curbside). Riders who fall into the first category, myself included are constantly annoyed by standing on the curb waiting for a pickup only to see the driver’s car stop on the map a half or full block away, and get a phone call. It would be easy to add a button to the app allowing a rider to signal whether they are ready to be picked up immediately, or need a couple minutes.

Is That You?

Once the driver and rider are in sight of one another, the last awkward bit of communication involves figuring out who the rider/driver is, and ensuring that they are the correct counterpart (since in a busy city many people may be requesting rides from the same location). Uber made a great leap forward by using the light up logo placards placed in drivers’ windshields. They are a great visual cue to identify an Uber car, and much classier than a large pink mustache or side mirror covers. From the driver’s perspective, finding the rider is a more difficult proposition. Drivers don’t see a picture of the rider, and It would be good if the app had a mode for signaling the driver visually, perhaps even just a fullscreen logo. It could even use different colors for different riders in the same location, so to avoid the awkward asking of the name that drivers currently do to verify they are picking up the right rider.

Where are you going?

One part of the experience that does fail to match the basic Taxi experience is informing the driver of the intended destination. If stating a landmark or restaurant without the exact address, and chances are the driver will have no idea where that is. Nearly all drivers are completely reliant on GPS navigation systems. Riders of Taxis are conditioned to experience a driver who has a pretty good idea of the city he or she is driving in, and doesn’t need a precise address to find most locations. If Uber is not going to require drivers to meet a minimum knowledge criteria of the cities they drive in, it would be useful to allow riders to pre-load in a destination address rather than delaying the start of the trip while fumbling through an address lookup. The app already allows riders to enter a destination address for a fare quote, but it would be more useful to input a destination address that the drivers could already be prepared to navigate to.


Why criticize perhaps the best thing to happen to urban transportation in recent times? Blame it on the hope that once something proves even the universally mediocre experience of getting a cab can be drastically improved, it suggests even itself is capable of delivering further delight.

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