How Did I Go This Long Without UberX in My Life?

The PPA might be cracking down on the popular ride-share service, but, puppies or no, it's exactly what we need.

As is the case with most things that involve my phone, I was late to the UberX game.

It’s not that I didn’t have a use for the popular ride-share service. Since moving to Queen Village, I’ve taken to calling a cab for everything that doesn’t warrant giving up my parking space — which is to say, well, everything. And although I’ve always found Philly’s cab drivers to be somewhere between pleasant-enough and unlikely-to-wear-my-face, I don’t necessarily have an attachment to them, either.

It’s just that when you’re working with a rusty iPhone 4 that has bravely decided to stay by your side, you think twice before downloading new apps. Or running risky updates. Or removing the duct tape.

But last Thursday, Uber was delivering adoptable puppies as a fundraiser for the PSPCA. The time to hesitate was through. 

Unfortunately, the cars full of puppies booked up fast because they were cars full of puppies. But I decided to try the app on the way home from work anyway — and while, yes, it would have been better with some fluffy little passengers, it was still pretty great.

From what I understand, UberX was better when it first debuted in Philadelphia last fall. And unfortunately for drivers, it isn’t exactly the get-rich-quick gig that the company initially advertised. (You should click that last link if you want an in-depth look at the Uber business model. I’ll be providing no such thing here — although we might circle back to the puppies.) That said, if there’s a better way to get around this place on four wheels, I haven’t found it.

Including tip, my ride home from work last Thursday was under $11, which is less than half of what I’d pay in a traditional cab. (And yes, about five times as much as it would have cost to take SEPTA — I’m aware, and I’m also lazy.) On Friday night, a lovely aspiring actor dropped me off in Center City for less than the cost of a parking meter. After he realized I was on my way to a wedding, my Saturday night driver put up the windows, blasted the air conditioning and offered me a courtesy basket stocked with tissues, gum and hair spray. Only my mom would have provided better service, and she’d have thrown in a back-handed compliment about my shoes with that Dentyne Ice.

Unfortunately, it looks like my love affair with Uber could be brief. Although legal nearly everywhere else in Pennsylvania, it’s considered a hack-cab operation in Philadelphia and has racked up $300,000 in fines over the past 10 months. Uber claims it has no plans to stop service, even as the PPA has cracked down and impounded more than 50 cars citing safety concerns. (It should be noted that an UberX driver was charged with rape last month – but it should also be noted that the same man was registered as a cab driver with the PPA.)

Introduced last week, legislation is in the works to regulate and secure Uber and similar ride-sharing services. While Senator Camera Bartolotta has a reassuring, can-do Leslie Knope-ness look about her, I’m not so sure. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in this city, but I don’t have a lot of faith that Philadelphia’s delegation to the state legislature will look in the mirror and say, “Why yes, it is time to embrace a refreshing new idea that citizens and City Hall are asking for and works rather seamlessly. The PPA was getting too rich anyway.”

And I get it. I hate change more than the most backward politician in Philadelphia. I have a duct-taped iPhone 4 in my purse and, every morning, a print edition of the Inquirer hitting my doorstep. I’ve gone to the same hairdresser for the past 15 years, preferring a 45-minute drive to letting someone new touch my ears. But even I can see that evicting Uber would be a mistake.

The good news, of course, is that for as much as Philadelphia’s Harrisburg delegation may like maintaining the status quo, as we learned from the infamous abandoned sting, they can be, ahem, persuadable. And Uber has cars full of puppies.

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