Get a Lift from Uber on Your Smartphone

June 7, 2013

in App Reviews

  • SumoMe

Uber on PhoneYou’ve just finished dining at a restaurant a half-mile from your hotel.

But it’s pouring down rain and if you walk back you’ll be like that salmon before it ended up on your dinner plate:  All wet.

The maître d’ calls a cab. You wait. And wait. And wait.

But that cab doesn’t come.

Now what? Pull out your phone and ask Uber to give you a lift.

What is Uber?

Uber isn’t a cab or limousine company. It’s just a tech firm that has invented a way for you to use your cellphone to request a ride in a taxi, a black sedan (like a Lincoln Town Car), SUV, or a hybrid or mid-range car vehicle.

Every vehicle type may not be available at each Uber location. For example, in Rome you’ll only be offered a “Black Car,” while in Paris you can ride in a van or on a “Moto”(“The elegance of Uber and the speed of the motorcycle wrapped up in one package.”).

You can get the free Uber app for most models of iPhone and iPod Touch from the iTunes App Store. It’s also available for Android phones from Google Play and BlackBerry devices from BlackBerry World.

If you own an older “feature phone,” you can still access Uber car services via SMS or the Uber mobile Website.

How Uber Work?

Set up An Uber Account

To use the Uber app to get a lift, you’ll first need to set up an account and provide the company Uber Screenshot 1with a credit card to bill you for any rides you take. Or, if you have an Android phone, you can pay Uber using Google Wallet.

Although you might be able to do that up with the Uber app on your phone, I found it easier to use the Uber Website on my desktop computer’s much bigger screen,

Tell Uber Where to Pick You Up

Launch the Uber app on your phone and either drag the pin on the map to where you are at, or manually type in the location where the Uber-dispatched car should pick you up.

Select Your “Ride”

Uber Screenshot 2At the bottom of the Pickup Location screen, select the type of vehicle you want to ride in: “Taxi,” “uberX” (hybrid or mid-range car), “Black Car,” or “SUV.”

Uber will show you nearby vehicles of your choice, and an estimate of how long it would take the closet one to reach your location. Tap on the vehicle to see the ETA, minimum fare, and maximum number of people that can be carried.

Real-Time Ride Request

The only downside to Uber is that it’s a “real-time only ride request” service. You can’t schedule a pickup for later in the day or evening.

Tap “Submit Pickup Location” and the Uber app will let you obtain a fare estimate (if you enter the drop-off location) and enter a promotion code for the service if you have been given one. Then hit the request bar at the bottom of the screen to ask to be picked up.

Here She Comes!Uber Screenshot 3

You’ll quickly get a text message telling you that your “Ubermobile” is on its way, and you can watch it move toward you on the app’s map display.

The driver’s name and photo will appear at the bottom of the screen.

You’ll get a another text message when your Uber-requested vehicle has arrived to pick you up. That means instead of getting soaked while standing out on the rainy sidewalk, you can have a last sip of wine or cognac inside the warm restaurant.

Then just hop into the car, tell tell the driver where you are headed (“Take me to the Ritz, Paul!”), and you’re on your way.

No Fuss Payment

When you reach your destination, leave your wallet in your pocket or purse. Uber will automatically charge your account and promptly send you an e-receipt.

(July 18, 2013 Update: The Uber app now lets you split the fare with other passengers who also have an Uber account.)

(October 21, 2o13 Update: Now you can leave a memo on your trip receipt to help keep track of work expenses by: 1) Opening the trip actions menu (located next to your driver’s photo); 2) tapping “Change Payment” and then “Expense this Trip”; 3) adding a note to the trip, e.g., “Business lunch with clients from account #1357.”

[November 19, 2013 update: You can now pay with your PayPal account, too.]

No Out-of-Pocket Tipping

If you requested a taxi, Uber will add a 20% tip to the metered fare. Uber Screenshot 4No tip is charged if you ride in a Black Car, UBERx, or SUV.

What’s It Really Cost?

The Uber Website provides detailed information on pricing and flat fares—except for taxis— in the cities where its service is available.

There isn’t a great deal of variation in fares between San Francisco (the largest “Uber City” near my home) and San Diego (where I recently used Uber) or New York City (where one would assume the ride could be more costly.

However, as you’ll see from the “Test Driving Uber” section below, it may or may not be cheaper for you to take a conventional cab ride, by either hailing a taxi on the street or calling for one in advance, than having Uber drive you.

[December 19, 2013 update: Per this story in The New York Times, Uber may dramatically increase the cost of a ride when its service is facing heavy demands. So to avoid “Uber sticker shock” in such times of “surge pricing,” be sure to check the fare estimate before you book the ride.]

Which Cities are “Uber-Friendly”?

You won’t find Uber operating everywhere in the U.S., but it can give you a lift in:

    • Atlanta
    • Baltimore
    • Boston
    • Chicago
    • Dallas
    • Denver
    • Detroit
    • The Hamptons
    • Indianapolis
    • Los Angeles
    • Minneapolis–St. Paul
    • New York City
    • Philadelphia
    • Phoenix
    • Sacramento
    • San Diego
    • San Francisco
    • Seattle
    • Washington, D.C.

(“Secret Ubers” service is available in Honolulu, Napa, and Orange County. Apparently that means that Uber is being tested, but hasn’t been “officially launched, in those places. Uber city locations change from time to time. Check the Uber Website for an updated lists of cities where the car service is available.)

Uber provides a “most reliable service area” map for each of its locations, such as this one for San Francisco.


Uber operates overseas in:

    • Amsterdam
    • Berlin
    • Cannes
    • London
    • Lyon
    • Melbourne
    • Mexico City (“Secret Ubers”only)
    • Milan
    • Munich (“Secret Ubers”only)
    • Paris
    • Rome
    • Seoul (“Secret Ubers”only)
    • Singapore
    • Stockholm
    • Sydney
    • Taipei (“Secret Ubers”only)
    • Toronto
    • Vancouver
    • Zurich (“Secret Ubers”only)

(Uber city locations change from time to time. Check the Uber Website for an updated lists of cities where the car service is available.)

“Test Driving” Uber

Unlike several prior trips to San Diego, during my visit last month I stayed in a downtown hotel and didn’t have a rental car. On two nights I walked to dinner, giving me the perfect excuse to use Uber to get  back to my hotel after polishing off a meal and some libations.

The first night out I strolled just under three-quarters of a mile up to the city’s “Little Italy” district. After dinner I pulled out my iPhone, typed in the restaurant’s address to make sure that Uber knew where I was, and waited.

In a matter of minutes “Sergio” pulled up in front of the restaurant in a black Cadillac Escalade, like the one in this photo from the Uber blog. A few minutes later I was back at the hotel. And a few more minutes after that I received the receipt for the ride’s $15 charge—the minimum fee for a Black Car ride in San Diego.

Uber Escalade

The next night out I headed east to a Thai restaurant in San Diego’s Gas Lamp Quarter, also about three-quarters of a mile a from my hotel. Since I had spent all afternoon walking around the city, I opted to ride back to the hotel after dinner.

But instead of using Uber, I simply walked about a block to where cabs were waiting near Horton Plaza, and took one. The fare plus tip was $10, or $5 less than I would have paid to ride in style in a Uber Black Car, but $3 more than the cost of one in a uberX.

Using Uber Back at Home

While Uber could be a godsend when you’re on the road, how does it stack up against the transportation options available to you in your home city?

For me, the answer is somewhat academic. When I launch Uber on my iPhone while sitting at home 25 miles north of San Francisco, the app tells me “No Black Cars Available.” And there are no UBERx, SUV, or Uber-connected taxis either.

But what if I hopped a ferry into San Francisco and wanted to travel from the Ferry Building to Union Square in the heart of the city’s main shopping district? How would the cost of using Uber compare to taking a taxi or a bus?GG Ferry

Uber would charge me $10 to ride in an uberX, $15 in a Black Car. A taxi would probably run $8-$10. The bus fare would be just $2, bit if I had three friends with me, we’d collectively pay $8, about the same as a cab, and not that much less than we’d pay Uber. [Update June 12, 2012: Ubex announces that uberX prices will be 10% lower than taxis, at least in San Francisco.]

A round-trip solo-trip by ferry and ground transportation would cost me about $22 using the bus, about half of the $43-$48 (depending on the vehicle) Uber would charge. The ferry-taxi option would probably be $34-$38.

I could, of course, drive my own car into San Francisco. But if I spent 6 hours shopping and having lunch in the city, I’d be out $34 for parking, the Golden Gate Bridge toll, and gas. If I used the IRS business mileage allowance to calculate the real cost of using my car to get there, my San Francisco day-outing would cost me closer to $46, or about the same as I’d pay for a stress-free rides on the ferry and in an Ubermobile.

One of my hiking buddies and his wife recently stayed overnight in a San Francisco hotel and used Uber, rather than their own car, to get to and from dinner at a restaurant in the city. One of the advantages of riding with Uber—especially during major holidays when the police are out in force and set up DUI checkpoints—is that you can “celebrate” as much as you want and the only consequence might be a bad hangover the next day.


(mountainhiker Flickr Photostream)


While you’d pay Uber a few bucks to keep you from getting “free room and board” in the local hoosegow, it would be a lot cheaper than what you’d fork out to deal with a DUI charge, particularly in California where the state’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs pegs the total out-of-pocket DUI cost at a whopping $6,641.

The Bottom Line

Utilizing Uber makes a lot of sense if you’re in a city where it operates and taxis are in short supply at the time when you need a lift to where you’re going.

While riding a bus might be a lot cheaper, drivers usually don’t carry cash, so unless you’ve got a transit pass, you’ll be fumbling in your pockets for the exact fare, something you’ll never have to do when you ride with Uber.

The Uber service is very easy to use, and if a pickpocket swipes your wallet, but not your cellphone, you wouldn’t be relegated to using your feet to get around.

And, of course, if you want to ride in style, don’t call a cab, just tell Uber “send my driver to pick me up, please!” Its fun, and a lot less expensive than having a chauffer on-staff to drive you around like Miss Daisy.

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