The car service Uber arrived in Philly earlier this month, after deployments in more refined places like Paris and San Francisco, and I’ve basically jettisoned Philadelphia’s broken-down, stinky and badly piloted taxicabs in favor of the town cars and SUVs offered by Uber. Strictly speaking, Uber is not actually a car service. It is an app for iPhone and Android phones that taps into a city’s pre-existing network of professional drivers. I know what you’re thinking: Philly has a pre-existing network of professional drivers? C’mon. No, really.
You download the free Uber app and register your phone number and credit card information. When you need a car, the app pinpoints your location and indicates how many minutes away the nearest driver is. Once you hit the green SET PICKUP LOCATION button, said driver is automatically dispatched. Just before your car arrives, you’ll get a message from Uber with your driver’s photo, name and plate number. You know, just in case you’re not sure what shiny chauffeured town car idling on Sansom street at one in the morning is yours.
Once the uniformed driver has taken you to your destination, there’s nothing to do but get out of the car, because billing is automatic, and gratuity is included in the rates. No more arguing with a cab driver outraged with your inability to carry cash. Uber quickly sends you an e-receipt, along with an opportunity to rate your driver. If you give a low rating, a pop-up asks for more feedback, and a real live person known as an Uber Community Manager will follow up.
Naturally, Uber is not as cheap as a cab, and since the minimum fee is $15 (remember, that includes gratuity), it’s not ideal for super-short hauls. But for medium or longer-distance rides, prices are close enough that given the added value Uber brings, it’s a no brainer. For example, a cab ride to my home from Center City is normally about $25, including tip and depending on traffic. That same ride in a brand-new, black town car with tinted windows, leather seats and a built-in hanger for my suit jacket cost me $30, and the driver helped me with my bags and made sure I made it into the house OK. An airport run is a flat $60, and the company says that a ride from Center City to a Phillies game in South Philadelphia will set you back about $26 on the meter.
Out of four rides I’ve taken so far, only one was lackluster, and Uber was quick to respond to my complaint in a satisfactory way, which amounted to a $10 credit for a future ride. I’m sure that they’ve still got some kinks to work out—and ultimately, the app is really only as good as the drivers on the street—but it’s not exactly hard to be light years better than Philly’s cab system, and Uber is just that.