Years ago I worked a few months as a cab driver in London, and for a while as a taxi dispatcher. This was the early 90’s and while I sat in a nondescript, smoke stained office, with my 2-way radio in hand, and no clear idea where any of my drivers were, I sketched out a location based system that would display the taxi locations on a computer screen, and improve the process of dispatching cars to anyone who needed them.

The existing system was of course hopelessly inefficient, with half of most cab journeys having no paying passengers. (It’s still the way now). This is a huge waste of fuel, time and unnecessary wear and tear on the car. With my background in computing, I could see a number of ways to improve the system, not only for drivers and their dispatchers, but for passengers too.

20 years later and with the advent of smart phones, we now have Uber, Lyft, Hailo and others. Having not long ago relocated to San Francisco, where it’s nearly impossible to find a taxi on the street, I signed up for Uber right away, becoming an active and passionate user. I loved the fact that Uber made me the dispatcher, able to see where my cab was, and with the advent of Uber X had reasonable pricing too.

But in the last month or two, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with Uber, to the point where I’m now actively avoiding using it. Here’s my ‘5 reasons’ why…

  1. Endless Surge Pricing – Surge pricing has always been annoying but lately it’s gotten out of control. It’s always felt like it happens when you absolutely most need a cab, either late at night wanting to go home, running late for a meeting, or going to a popular event. But now it’s regularly happening in the middle of the day, and I’m not talking 1.25x surge pricing. Twice now I have seen 4-5x surge pricing, and with a family member visiting recently, we had no choice the other day but to use Uber to travel 5 miles from the Castro to the Marina in San Francisco, at a cost of $70. That’s insane.
  2. Crappy Drivers – Uber seems to treat their drivers with uber contempt. They appear outwardly at least to take the view that there will always be other drivers to fill the shoes of the other drivers who’ve lost interest. The problem is that the good drivers are leaving in droves right now, being replaced by a bunch of hopeless idiots (sorry) who come into the city from far away (Sacramento?), and have absolutely no idea where they are going. I had an Uber driver the other day who literally did not know where Haight Street was… you know… the 2nd most famous street in the city. I’m not even from San Francisco, but I knew where Haight Street was before I’d even moved here. I don’t want a driver who is using GPS to find their way around and who takes me into traffic, or who needs me to ‘share’ the address of my destination from my phone, or who is so paranoid about their rating as a new driver, that they talk nervously about their lives, their troubles and kids, or who offer me crappy drinks or chocolate from the trash filled trunk behind me. No thanks!
  3. Slow responses and glitches – Lately the Uber app has been tediously slow to respond at times. The other night, three of us stood outside a popular venue downtown on a Sunday night around midnight. All three of us wanted to go home and two of us tried to hail a cab using Uber. After literally 5 minutes of waiting, the Uber apps gave up without responding. Fortunately I had Yellow Cab’s new app (more on this in a sec) and a taxi was confirmed and arrived in under two minutes. My techie friends who’d moments earlier had been poo-pooing my old fashioned Yellow Cab app, were now grudgingly impressed.
  4. Awkward ride sharing – The day they introduced Uber Pool, their attempt to steal from Lyft’s ride-sharing territory, I lost a lot of respect for Uber. I don’t like companies that copy others, and there were already too many options on the Uber app already. It smacked of desperation, or ruthlessness, either one of which is pretty gross. Why they would want to go so far downmarket I have no idea… Uber in my mind as a brand had always felt high end… ‘your personal driver’ etc. Last night I sat in a Uber Pool with my 7 year old son and a Chinese woman in her 20’s, who didn’t even look up from her iPhone when we both got in the car, and who stayed glued to her phone for the entire journey. Even the driver said afterwards “well that was awkward!” To his credit, he at least tried to talk to my son to cover up the awkward silence.
  5. Competition! – After my ridiculous $70 ride to the Marina I was absolutely determined not to use Uber for the ride back. Of course it was still surge pricing two hours later, and the type that gets more expensive each time you check. We managed to hail a Yellow Cab on the street (sheer luck) and while sitting in the back of this rather odd and old school form of transportation, relieved in the knowledge I wouldn’t be screwed over the cost, I noticed a backseat ad for Yellow Cab’s own Uber style app. I downloaded it immediately and haven’t looked back. I’m happy to say that while the interface is terrible (typos?), and is hardly intuitive to use, I can confirm that it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and there is no surge pricing ever.

I talk a lot to the drivers, and I know many other people do too. Uber needs to realize that right now the drivers are talking crap about Uber to their customers, so the customers are getting a terrible view of the company. This is a 180 degree reversal from just a couple of months ago. The drivers are terrified to say things publicly, so they kick Uber right where it hurts instead, by talking direct to the customers. I hear there’s a one day strike coming soon by the drivers. Good for them.

Uber needs to get off their high horse, stop trying to crush the competition in some insane, misguided ‘we must own every part of the market’, go back to basics, and realize that right now they are losing the key balancing act of keeping both drivers and passengers happy.

Neither are happy right now… and that’s not going to end well.

2 Comments on “Endless surge pricing, crappy drivers… Uber has officially jumped the shark

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