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Commuting in the app of luxury

Date

Ben Grubb

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Now anyone can have a chauffeur, and it only costs on average about 20 per cent more than a cab, writes Ben Grubb.

Uber's Australian general manager, David Rohrsheim, in one of the hire cars.

Uber's Australian general manager, David Rohrsheim, in one of the hire cars.

It's 5pm on Tuesday and I should have finished work two hours ago. I'm at Fairfax Media's Pyrmont office at 1 Darling Island Road and I'm more than ready to head home to Surry Hills.

I usually work from home, but today I went into the office to see some colleagues and get a wristband for the staff Christmas party. (OK, maybe I just went in for the wristband.) But instead of taking a taxi - or the light rail to Capitol Theatre and then walking - I decide to try out Sydney's new on-demand luxury private hire car service, Uber.

I had heard about it properly launching in Sydney this week and thought it might be fun to try it out. It allows you to book a private driver and luxury car (usually a Holden Caprice) via your smartphone whenever you need it and then watch the car and driver approach you on a map with an estimated time of arrival.

Taxis wait outside Fairfax Media's Sydney office.

Taxis wait outside Fairfax Media's Sydney office.

This is something that would normally be reserved for rich company executives but is now going mainstream with the help of apps like Uber and Dash being used by private car drivers when they are having down time and want more business.

I book the luxury car and driver at 5.11pm via the app and it tells me a few seconds later that "Ronny" is on his way and will be about 19 minutes. It also shows me a button to call him if need be and sends me a text saying his ETA and how many stars he's been given by his passengers (4.7 out of 5 - nice work, Ronny!). According to the Uber app, Ronny is currently at Rushcutters Bay. As it's peak hour, I wonder to myself if he can really make it in the 19 minutes Uber claims.

Meanwhile, outside Fairfax's office, I see a row of taxis, one of which I normally would have jumped into to go home. At this point I realise my long day at work probably would have been over a lot quicker had I  taken one of them instead of using Uber (or booked an Uber ride a lot earlier than I needed to take it). But heck, I stick with it, especially since this particular ride is free, not because I've been offered a review ride as a journalist, but because I noticed a tweet sent out via Twitter with a promotion code late on Tuesday saying rides of $60 or less would be free for the next three hours.

The Uber app showing "Ronny" around Rushcutters Bay.

The Uber app showing "Ronny" around Rushcutters Bay.

As Ronny makes his way to the office, the taxis begin to pile up at the rank outside work. When I first came outside to wait at 5.21pm there were two taxis and now, at 5.27pm, there are five.

It's 5.28pm and Ronny has arrived - two minutes earlier than the ETA! (well done, Ronny). I ask him how he got to me so quickly. He tells me he took the cross-city tunnel and complains about how expensive it is ($5 from memory).

But I  knew already that he took the tunnel of course, as I saw him take it on the map as he drove towards me.

My trip on a map.

My trip on a map.

As we drive off in his Holden Caprice, he asks where I want to go. I offer directions and he takes me. He tells me how tech illiterate he is, but that hasn't stopped him from signing up to the Uber app to make more use of his time as a driver.

Three of the best things about travelling this way were the fact 2GB wasn't playing on the radio, the driver wasn't talking to his wife on his phone and he didn't smell.

All too often I've been in a taxi and all three of the above annoying factors have been at play.

My trip's statistics.

My trip's statistics.

I also found the conversation I had with the driver was more intelligent than what I'm normally used to with a taxi driver. He also knew where I wanted to go too, unlike many, many Sydney taxi drivers. For example, I remember once telling a taxi driver to go to Star City and he didn't know where it was.

The interior of this car was also very nice and it smelt fresh.

Once we get to just outside my house I ask Ronny to pull over. He pulls out his iPhone 5, presses an on-screen button and it calculates the fare I would have had to pay had the ride not been free. As it pops up on his screen I'm impressed: $27.95.

My fare breakdown.

My fare breakdown.

Normally a taxi home from work would cost me somewhere between $14 and $16. At this point I should mention that I wouldn't normally have to give the driver money in the form of cash or credit/debit card. That information I saved on the Uber app on my smartphone earlier when I signed up so that the money could be deducted automatically after a trip.

Once I accept the payment, Ronny press another on-screen button and gives me, the passenger, 5 out of 5 stars. He says this is so other drivers know whether I'm good enough to pick-up or whether I've been given a bad rating as a passenger.

Very soon after this I get an email showing the journey on a map and a breakdown of the charges, time spent in the taxi and the distance travelled. This is very cool, and not something I would normally get from a taxi service.

Overall, I rate the experience 5 out 5. Yes, there are taxi apps like Ingogo, GoCatch, myTaxi and Taxi Pro that can get me an on-demand taxi (not that I needed one as there is a rank outside work), but I would find this service really useful if it was 3am on a Saturday and I was stuck in Kings Cross with a bunch of drunks all trying to get taxis. I'd also find it useful for taking someone on a date.

General manager for Uber Sydney, David Rohrsheim, wouldn't tell me how many drivers are currently using its service but he said Uber was always adding enough cars to meet demand.

He said the feedback from users had been great, especially from those in areas poorly services by taxis. On average, he estimates his service costs about 20 per cent more than taking a taxi and is much cheaper than booking a luxury private car directly with a private hire car service.

"We make hire cars more accessible," he said. "And we think there is a lot of demand for something like this ... It reduces the rates and increases the volume for private car drivers."

twitter This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb

34 comments

  • "I also found the conversation I had with the driver was more intelligent than what I'm normally used to with a taxi driver. " LOL WAT?

    Are you not getting enough discussion on the Marxist dialectic from your usual taxi drivers? Then try UBER.

    Commenter
    Rebecca123
    Date and time
    November 28, 2012, 1:58PM
    • Wow has NSW transport approved this, I thought Hire Cars had to be pre-booked with an agreed fare prior to the passenger being picked up??? Sounds like a glorified taxi service to me but Im not saying we dont need that in Sydney...

      Commenter
      ric4217
      Location
      Surfers Paradise
      Date and time
      November 28, 2012, 2:04PM
      • Hmm.... for a product that costs almost double the price of a normal taxi (ie $14-$15 versus $27.95), I'm happy to open a car window, tell the driver to stay away from his mobile while transporting me and I couldn't care what radio station he listens to.

        Commenter
        Schwabbie
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        November 28, 2012, 2:07PM
        • Agreed. Not paying double the price (or 20% more) for essentially the same service.

          Commenter
          Jen
          Date and time
          November 28, 2012, 3:42PM
        • Like most things in life, you can opt to go basic or spend a little extra for some quality. No different to 3 ply toilet paper. I'll use what ever i can if its an emergency, but happy to spend a little extra for some quality.

          Commenter
          Missybear
          Date and time
          November 28, 2012, 4:30PM
        • In Melbourne,
          a taxi from my house to the airport costs around $95
          a pre-booked chauffer driven luxury hire car costs $90
          Guess which one I use?

          Commenter
          Alfa_male
          Location
          Hawthorn
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 9:31AM
        • The extra wait is the killer for me. He had to wait an extra 15 mins than if he'd gotten a cab. I'd rather save 15 mins of wasting time standing on the curb than have a slightly nicer cab interior. That 15 mins is 15 mins away from my kids.

          Commenter
          JamesM
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 10:27AM
      • So on the front page headline it says the service is only 20% more than a taxi but then in the article it's 100% more?

        Commenter
        Cleetus
        Date and time
        November 28, 2012, 2:16PM
        • On average is what Uber's GM says.

          Commenter
          Ben Grubb, deputy technology editor
          Date and time
          November 28, 2012, 2:18PM
        • Uber Fees: Flag $8, Fast km rate: $3.25 Slow km rate: 1.25c Credit card charge: 3%
          NSW Taxi Fees: Flag $5.9, Fast km rate: $2.14 Slow km rate: 92c Credit card charge: 10%

          The maths is pretty simple. On all trips between 15km-50km Uber costs about 38% more than a Taxi. If a lot of slow driving is done (say 40% of the trip) this drops to around 34%.

          If you use cash to pay instead of a credit card then Uber increases to about 50% more expensive than a taxi.

          Uber also state "at times of intense demand, our rates change over time to keep vehicles available"

          Regards

          Commenter
          Peter
          Location
          Oz
          Date and time
          November 28, 2012, 4:14PM

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