The ride-sharing service Uber is available in more than 150 U.S. cities (not to mention many more across 43 countries), so there’s a good chance you’ve used Uber, or heard of it, at the very least.
There are plenty of opinions out there about Uber. Some people swear by it. Others have had experiences so bad they’ll never use it again. That alone doesn’t set it apart from other businesses, but part of the difference in experiences stems from the fact that Uber has a variety of products and policies that directly impact the user experience. Whether you’re a regular Uber user or are just now hearing about it, here are some things you might not know about the ride-sharing business and how it affects you.
1. Surge Pricing
Uber’s on-demand ride service is what makes it so desirable — forget standing on the curb, hoping a cab comes by, because you make drivers come to you by requesting a ride through the app. It’s wonderfully convenient. Of course, convenience changes the landscape of the business.
Instead of those times where you know you’ll never find an available cab (i.e. holidays or terrible weather), you can get an Uber, but it’s going to cost you more. It’s basic economics: supply and demand. If you request an Uber during a peak time, its solution for keeping up with demand is to charge consumers higher fares, which it calls “surge pricing.” You’ll end up paying many times more than what you would pay during a down time, meaning a short ride could cost you more than $100.
To be fair, when you request an Uber during surge pricing, a notification pops up in the app, asking if you’re sure you want to continue. That hasn’t stopped people from saying they had no idea the ride would cost so much. For example, this past Halloween, a woman ended up paying more than $300 for a short Uber ride, and she ended up crowdfunding the bill.
The takeaway: Pay attention to fare estimates and make sure the ride is worth it.
2. It’s Illegal in Some Places
As widely available as it is, you won’t find Uber in some cities. For example, you can get an Uber in four suburbs of Portland, Ore., but Portlanders can’t get an Uber in the city. There have been legislative fights in cities across the country about whether to allow the service to operate. (This affects more than just Uber, because there are several similar businesses out there.)
Some local licensing requirements actually make being an Uber driver illegal. Last month, a story popped up about Uber and Lyft drivers facing misdemeanor charges for driving without the proper permit in the Tampa Bay area. For a company that some see as an opportunity to make extra cash, that’s some serious risk associated with a side job.
3. Kitten & Ice Cream Delivery Happens Too
You can request Uber to do more than get you from Point A to Point B. The company has run some very successful promotions like Uber Ice Cream and Uber Kittens in select cities, and they do exactly what you think they would: deliver ice cream and kittens upon request. There was even an Uber Health pilot program in some cities, where people could request at-home flu shots via Uber.
4. The Driver Isn’t the Only One Being Rated
At the end of your Uber ride, you have the opportunity to give your driver up to 5 stars as a rating of their service. A driver’s rating affects their ability to continue working as an Uber driver, which is the incentive for delivering good service.
Uber drivers rate their passengers, too, so if you have a habit of requesting Ubers when you’re belligerently drunk or in a less-than-courteous mood (or if you’re just like that), you may find yourself having trouble getting a driver.
5. Different Fares by City
Depending on where you are, you have a few options for Uber services, like UberX, Uber Taxi (request a taxi via Uber), Uber Black Car and Uber SUV. As you might expect, these services come at different costs.
But service type isn’t the only thing affecting how much you pay. Base fares, taxes and fees vary by city, so while you pay an average of $14.70 for a 10-mile, 20-minute UberX trip in Chicago, a similar trip in New York City costs an average of $32.50. ChicagoInno, a Chicago media company focused on startups, analyzed UberX fares across the U.S. and found Chicago has the cheapest UberX fares. The Hamptons has the highest average fare for a 10-mile, 20-minute ride: $63.50.
Again, make sure you check fare estimates before committing to an Uber when traveling, to avoid serious sticker shock when you get your receipt.
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Image: Ingram Publishing