Uber – your new luxury car service app

We’d like to think that we roll in style. But pulling up to the party or that big business meeting in whatever jalopy of a cab we’ve hailed off the street doesn’t always make the impression we’d like, and our wallets, no matter how full, can’t stand the thought of paying quadruple the price of cab fare for a town car or sedan service. But bemoan our not-so-full wallets anymore, thanks to Uber, our new favorite phone app that lets us call a private driver with the simple touch of a button.

How It Works:
The concept is easy – much like popular cab app Taxi Magic, one simply enters their desired pickup destination to see a map of all available Uber cars in the area. You’ll note how far away the Uber is and can plot your pickup time accordingly. Click book and you’ll automatically get a text saying when your car has been dispatched. In our recent case testing the service in Chicago, our 4.9-rated driver “Benni,” was 13 minutes away. He promptly telephoned to let us know that 13 minutes actually meant that he was downtown, and that our ETA might be closer to 15 to 17 minutes. When the driver arrives, you’ll also receive a text.
The next part is simple – hop in the town car (the fleet also has Mercedes sedans, SUVs and several other vehicles) and give your direction. Long haul rates, like airports, are a flat fee, but most in-city driving is a standard flat fee plus a per mile or per-minute charge, depending on how fast the far is going. The fees vary slightly from city to city, but the average rate is 1.5 to twice that of a cab. When you arrive at your destination, simply thank the driver and exit – the payment process (including tip) is done completely inside the app with your pre-entered credit card information, so there’s no need to dig for cash or figure out how much to tip.

While this might seem high for the average individual, flat rates to airports are often comparable with taxi services, and the Uber cars charge on a per vehicle, not per-person basis, so if you’re traveling en masse, the cars offer a luxury benefit with little to no extra cost.

Why We Like It:
When we first broached this idea to Grant (Gadling’s EIC), he rolled his eyes and asked why we felt the need to take a town car when a cab would do. Because we like living the luxe life, that’s why. Duh.

Firms like lobbying and law firms in the city trying to keep their costs low but still maintain a certain profile are being targeted by the company to try the service – it’s an easy way to be cost effective and still look smart.

We can also see where the service will be particularly attractive in markets like Washington, DC, where cabs often cross state lines and have specific pick-up and drop-off laws about multiple stops and passengers, as well as higher fees than many of their other big city counterparts like New York and Chicago. We’ve been left in the cold trying to get back to our home one too many times by a DC cab refusing to cross the bridge that whole extra mile into Virginia that this service makes perfect sense. It doesn’t always work – the service was full when we tried to pick one up from the airport in Chicago – but you get an immediate text response back apologizing for the inconvenience.

The convenience factor for frequent travelers is also quite nice – one never has to know the number of a cab company, or worry if they take credit cards. And it goes without saying – a town car is much nicer than a cab. Ours had copies of Cigar Aficionado in the back. Fancy.

What a Driver Says:
We had an impromtu interview with Grant and Benni, our driver on a recent trial run in Chicago. Benni says that while Uber takes 20% of a driver’s earnings, the pay is slightly better than a cab. Unusually, he followed the company on Twitter before signing up as a driver – once he realized the service was taking off, he signed on. He now says he’s awaiting data that shows him where most people order Uber cars and at what time of day, so that he can plan his driving schedule and location in time to pick people up promptly. “Working with these guys is a great pleasure,” he said. “Everything is more civilized.” We agree.

Where Can You Get It?
Uber is currently running in New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and Washington, DC and is running on a limited basis in Paris, with plans to expand soon to other major cities nationwide. You can download and read more about Uber here.