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Since I first heard of Uber, I’ve been a fan. Not just for the service itself, but for how it’s existence relies on the massive changes that have taken place in mobile phones in the last 10 years. It’s kinda like smartphones were made for this exact functionality. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Uber is a taxi reservation and payment system, that started in the USA less than 7 years ago, and is now available in over 500 cities worldwide. It uses the technology that exists in modern smartphones, to provide an innovative taxi booking and payment service.
Now I’m not going to get into the political / industrial issues around Uber versus the traditional taxi cab operations. This has been the subject of countless debates around the world, both at personal and city council level, as Uber tries to leverage it’s way into more and more cities, and traditional taxi operators see what they would view as an inferior service, trying to muscle in on their patch.
I’m simply looking at this from my comparative experience as part of my recent short stay in Manchester.
From the Airport by Hackney Taxi
We’d landed right on time, hand luggage only, so it was a swift walk from the plane to the arrivals hall. I think most would agree that when you land, you just want to get off the plane, and keep on moving to your final destination. I had no one meeting me at the airport. A bus wasn’t a consideration, so I needed a taxi.
I could get my phone out and look up Uber, but to be honest, I don’t want the bother of having to access the app and determine if there is an Uber car in or around the airport. Also, I’m not a regular in Manchester Airport, so I have no idea where Uber taxis park up to wait for clients (or indeed if they are allowed to do airport pickups).
Walking out the door, the hackney taxi rank is right in from of me, so I jump in and tell the driver my city centre hotel and I’m on my way, fundamentally without any break at all in my journey. When we get there, the meter stops at £25.60, and handing over the cash I feel obliged to give a tip, so he ends up with £30 (feels mean to ask for a couple of quid back out of £30).
The Return Journey by Uber
Fast forward to getting ready to head back to the airport. I know it takes 25mins or so to get to the airport, so while lying in bed on the Sunday morning, I launch Uber to get an idea of how quickly a car might get to me. The map shows several cars circling within 5-6 mins of the hotel. The fair estimation page tells me it’ll be between £14-£20 for an UberX (a car of mondeo/passat size), potentially a significant saving compared to the outbound. I head down to breakfast, and then grab my hand luggage and check-out of the room.
Sitting in the lobby, I confirm my location to the Uber app and click “request”. The app tells me that Hassan will be with me in 5 mins, and I get a picture of him, and the make, model and registration of his car. I can actually see his car starting to move on the dynamic map, heading towards me.
A few moments later, my phone rings “Is that Ian ?, just want to confirm exactly where you are”. It’s a fair question as GPS isn’t definitive, and there are two hotels right beside each other. I tell him I’m in the Holiday Inn, and he says he’ll be there in 2 mins. As I’m walking out, I see the Passat with his reg pull up. He greets me by name, and we are on our way.
The journey takes roughly the same amount of time as the day before, although we are held up in a queue for 3-4 mins at the airport drop off point. The driver confirms the fare is £18.70. And it’s a case of simply getting out and walking away. Uber automatically charges the fare to my registered credit card.
A few moments later, I get an Uber message re-confirming the cost. I’d forked out £11.30 less compared to the outbound journey.
Comparing the charging rates.
Just to ensure that I’m not being unfair to the Hackney cab, and that it’s journey wasn’t slower than the return, I’ve looked up the corresponding charging rates.
First, the charging rate table from Manchester city council website
….And the charging rate from Uber.
UberX is significantly cheaper across the board, ie. 10p instead of 32p per minute on the time scale, and £1.30 instead of £1.85 on the distance scale. I note from the Council charging rate that there is a £1.60 charge for leaving the airport, so to be fair I’ll add that into my UberX charge, on the assumption they also have to charge it. So that would make my UberX fare £20.70
In the example above, the Uber fare worked out about 25% cheaper that the standard taxi. I find it great to be able to book the taxi from the hotel lobby, and know the car/driver in advance. The call shortly before arrival means there is no un-necessary waiting around outside. Also, as there is no actual physical request for payment, there is no change to be given so you aren’t put in a position of having to decide whether to give a tip or how much. Although I could have asked for the full change from the cabbie, I feel few people would, and for me it actually resulting in costing me another £4.40.
But It’s not a one-sided story. First, it’s hard to beat the handiness at the airport of just stepping into a cab, particularly when the taxi rank is as convenient at the one is at Manchester airport. Second, I was using Uber early on a Sunday afternoon. At busy times, Uber pricing changes to surge pricing, which means the price can dramatically rise in response to extreme demand. And third, we were travelling as a couple, so a Passat car is fine. However, if there were 4 people in the party, you would have a LOT more comfort in a proper “black” taxi cab.
If you aren’t already signed-up for uber, and you have an American Express card, check your offers, as you may have one giving you £10 off your first two rides. If you don’t, I’d appreciate if you would use my invite code of 2xg3r. You’ll get a discount on your first ride, and I’ll get a referral fee.