Uber and Adelaide

This past September I spent the month primarily in San Francisco on a business trip. Whilst there we used Uber. We used it a lot, multiple times a day.

San Francisco is the home of the ride sharing concept. With Lyft, Sidecar and Uber all competing in the one city — it's the proving ground for ride sharing. From licensed chauffeur drivers to "anyone is a driver" options. Not only that, you can even rent out someone's car on a service like getaround with some pretty easy checks — even for some Aussies under 25 that don't hold a US license.

Then once I got home and read the past news about the Uber rollout in Adelaide and its controversy. After my month in San Francisco all I can think is that the discussion is based around some pretty uneducated opinion.

The primary point raised from Uber moving into Adelaide has been about a part of Uber that hasn't even launched yet. That is UberX where anyone with the proper checks and approved vehicle can become an Uber driver and able to pick up any Uber user that specifically requests an UberX. This does not require drivers or their cars to have the traditional State Government taxi permits or checks but as you would expect Uber does their own checks to compensate. This is because if Uber can't assure their customers that its drivers are safe then they will simply not have customers.

When in San Francisco we only used Ubers 'UberX' option. We would request a vehicle and within a couple of minutes someone with an Uber logo on their windshield would pull up. We'd hop in, state our destination and maybe spark up some conversation with the driver before arriving and leaving the vehicle. No money or credit card exchange because it is handled within the Uber mobile app automatically. Along with the payment we can also rate the driver on the trip which Uber monitors closely.

For the lay person this may sound crazy. The thought that a random stranger that has no affiliation with a traditional taxi company can rock up and take someone to where they want. Isn't that dangerous?

Absolutely not.

At no time have I or anyone I have spoken to that has used UberX has expressed any experience where they felt in danger or even uncomfortable with a driver or their vehicle. None. But a majority of people would know of a or experienced a 'crazy taxi driver' story — speeding or unloading some pretty crazy conspiracy theories about how the 3 tiers of government has ruined their life (something I experienced recently).

Here's something that is one step further, something I know from experience. I believe UberX is actually safer than a traditional taxi. 

Why? Lets take a traditional taxi trip:

  1. Order taxi.
  2. Wait for it to pick you up. May or may not have GPS to notify you of approach.
  3. State your destination and depart.
  4. Arrive. Exchange cash or credit card information with driver.
  5. Exit vehicle

Pretty typical. How is this worse than Uber?

  • The drivers don't have a passenger feedback system. My experience with a slightly unhinged taxi driver in Melbourne would have made me give a lower rating and possibly raise a review of the driver. If you can't remember their obscure taxi driver number then how can you report something?
  • Drivers can't rate their passengers. Drivers don't know who is going to hop in and if they may have a history of abusing other drivers.
  • Taxi companies aren't innovating to even step-up to compete with Uber. I went over this in a post a few months ago.
  • Payments are clunky and introduce a risk of fraud. If you're not paying attention a driver could skim a credit card.

The key point being that both the driver and passenger can't rate one another. On Uber, if a passenger is abusive or just generally unsavoury then they can be banned from Uber altogether protecting other drivers. Moreover, if a passenger reports a bad driver then the driver can be banned from using Uber as well.

Lets run through a scenario using Uber.

Its a late night, and Sarah is on her way home after some drinks. She orders an UberX and also provides her destination with the request. Once a UberX has been assigned she can see the drivers aggregated rating, a 5-star rating system, and what car they will be arriving in including its registration number. She can cancel the trip if she doesn't like the drivers rating or vehicle.

The driver arrives and the journey is underway. The driver will follow the Uber driver app's route to Sarah's destination she entered previously, the shortest route. All metering is done via the drivers Uber supplied iPhone and app using GPS.

Once arrived the driver will end the trip and Sarah exits the UberX. No cash or credit cards are exchanged. She simply leaves the UberX. A minute or so later she can then provide a star rating for the driver and the driver can rate Sarah also.

This scenario has been brought up by State Ministers that safety is a concern with people using UberX whilst intoxicated, impaired or by someone "vulnerable". But they don't actually elaborate or describe the scenario. Just say that something "could" happen.

The fact is, that with traditional taxis things already do happen. All too regularly taxi drivers are bashed by abusive passengers and, rarely, the inverse where a driver will assault a passenger or take advantage of the passengers impaired state. After a 24 hour news cycle we, regretfully, move on.

Back to Adelaide. With Treasurer Koutsantonis and other state ministers making some noise about Uber and not exactly understanding it initially; it is not looking too good for the possibility for UberX in Adelaide — or indeed anywhere else in Australia.

Thats disappointing. If Uber and UberX was looked at objectively with recognition of existing usage in the US, where any issues have arisen and having some experience using the US model then there would be no debate — it would be allowed with possible modernisation of taxi legislation.

Instead we have minsters that could be looking out for their friends in lobbies or just not being properly informed and having to deal with making uninformed commentary in the short news cycle.

I would love to talk to Treasurer Koutsantonis or any other state minister about how UberX is something we need and how it will make taxi's more competitive and safer for everyone.

I genuinely believe that Uber is a safer option than traditional taxis. That UberX is actually a great way for someone to make some extra income when they may need it. It will force an incumbent taxi industry to innovate and make their own services better and safer to compete. Isn't that better for all of us?