How to Car-Share Cheaper and Faster in the City

How to Car-Share Cheaper and Faster in the City
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How to Car-Share Cheaper and Faster in the City

This article is the third in a series of guest posts leading up to #CarLessWeek from July 13-17, 2015 (Join us on Facebook today).  It is full of ideas for anyone frustrated with a slow, stop-and-go commute every day… or just wanting to lessen their impact while increasing their happiness.  Specific resources are listed for residents of Greater Des Moines, but similar resources are available in most cities for those willing to ask.

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When the ride-share smartphone app Uber was released in Des Moines, I was over-joyed.  I couldn’t wait!

My experience with taxis has been the following:

  • Poor service from unfriendly representatives on the phone when calling to schedule
  • Taxis arriving very late (once 45 minutes) or not at all

But then, GoTaxi Des Moines, a smartphone app released by the local cab companies arrived.

  • I was able to schedule a cab without talking to anyone on the phone — straight into the queue
  • I was able to see on GPS when my cab was assigned and where it was

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The problem remained, however, that the cabs took forever to arrive.  Now, it was just frustrating because I could see my cab parked across town not moving… or the GPS map wouldn’t update in the winter.  Either way, I still had 25-30 minute waits for a taxi, even with the new and fancy app.

Enter Uber.

Despite many things I had read about the CEO’s character/tactics and his choice to enter communities without first partnering with local municipalities… I had worked on a team connecting ZipCar with Drake University’s sustainability team, and had learned about dozens of ride-sharing programs.  Uber seemed to have the best platform, which I’ll explain, and I was excited for Des Moines’ residents to test it out in real-time.

Lyft isn’t here yet.  And, although it’s a hilarious spoof from a Des Moines native… PiggyBack isn’t actually real (yet).

Then, I tried to register — and my excitement waned.

Step 1 – Download App & Register

For some reason, after I downloaded the app to my phone (Samsung Galaxy S4) and typed in my personal information… it wouldn’t accept my credit card.  Not by punching in the numbers.  Not using the internal photo tool, either.  I tried a dozen times, then quit frustrated.

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It wasn’t until I traveled halfway across the country to visit a friend in Seattle, that I decided to try again because Uber Seattle was well-established.

For some odd reason, it took my card.  And then my phone map was flooded with little black cars.  Literally, within 5 blocks of the restaurant we ate that night, 12 Uber drivers were waiting.

The great things about putting in your personal information is two-fold:

  1. No money exchanges hands!  Uber is all on your phone, including payment.  So, it saves time, cuts down on any worries about theft, and no needing a ride but not having cash.
  2. Documentation!  There is always a detailed record of your trip, for those who worry about safety.  Not only your information, but the driver’s… and the route you took, etc.  Plus, at the end both you and the driver get to rate each other and comment on your experience so others can make smart choices in the future.

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Step 2 – Request a Ride

When I first returned from Seattle and used Uber in Des Moines, there were 2 cars in town.  I was downtown, and that’s where both seemed to be most of the time.

Three weeks later, it grew to four… then five cars.  And they were out in West Des Moines now, too.

At most, it took 8-10 minutes to request a ride and then get picked up — easily twice as fast as a taxi, usually 3 times faster.  And cheaper.  The base fare is $3, compared to a taxi at $10-15 minimum!

Here are the steps:

  1. Pull up the app and the map will appear
  2. It will use GPS to pin-point your existing location… but if you are already on your way to a nearby place, or want picked up in a well-lit spot nearby for safety, you can drag the map to place the pick-up spot in a different location (UNLIKE our taxis which want you to already be at the pick-up site, even if they are 30 minutes away)
  3. Choose on the slider which Uber car-type experience you prefer:
    • uberX – nonluxury sedan
    • uberXL –  nonluxury SUV
    • uberBlack – luxury sedan or crossover (not available in Des Moines yet)
    • uberSUV – luxury full-sized SUV (not available in Des Moines yet)
  4. Press the “Set Pickup Location” button when you are confident on your pick-up location and car type… then all the cars that match that description will show up on the map
  5. Use a “Promo Code” to try it for FREE (e.g. if its your first time) and “Fare Estimate” to type in the address or use the search function before you request a ride
  6. “Request Uber” by hitting the button
  7. Review the driver details… you can look at the following once a driver is assigned:
    • Driver picture and name
    • Vehicle picture and license plate number
    • Driver rating and comments from previous Uber users
    • Contact options – you can call or text the driver assigned to you if the directions are tricky
    • Cancel if you feel unsure… if there is something you see that you don’t like (e.g. vehicle type, rating or comment), you can cancel that particular Uber and start the request process over.  Just tap on the driver’s name to bring up the “Cancel” option or use your phones menu button on the bottom left corner.

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Surge pricing is a thing to watch out for!  Especially if you’ve been drinking.

At peak times in the night, or special event nights, Uber can 2X, 3X or even 7.75X the price.  It always makes you “Agree” to those terms with a large screen and entry-box (which is why I said “especially if you’ve been drinking).  Don’t skip past this step lightly.  A $15 Uber ride could become a $75 ride quickly.  I haven’t seen this in Des Moines (yet), but I’m sure it’s coming.

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Step 3 – Enjoy the Ride

If you didn’t cancel your ride… watch patiently on the map as they near you and stand somewhere easy to hop in.  Tell them where you’re going (if you haven’t already typed it in)… and enjoy the ride.

You can split fares with friends who also have Uber on their phone.  Just an FYI to hold your friends accountable and not stick you with the bill for being the only one smart enough to download the app.

Drivers usually want good ratings and comments, so they are nice, talkative, and offer things like water bottles or snacks, etc. (kind of cool).  I like to get work done and often just let them know I’ll be on a call or reading so they don’t think I’m rude.

But some Uber drivers are just too fun or too interesting to NOT talk to.

Step 4 – Don’t pay!

Once you arrive, just hop out and head on your way.  That driver will end the Uber ride on the app, so they can be assigned their next ride.  As soon as that happens, you will receive a phone notification of the cost of the trip, a five-star rating option, and place for comments.  Accept if it looks right and leave feedback:

  • Were they nice?
  • Did they provide snacks, etc.?
  • Were they a good driver?  Did you feel safe?
  • I’ve only left negative comments a few times when they were clearly doing something unsafe, like not having a phone holder on the dashboard and staring down at their phone on their lap the whole time not watching the road… if you feel unsafe, give feedback.  It will help them improve, and be better for every user in the long run!
  • Remember, they can also rate you, so be honest and helpful… not a mean jerk.

 

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Be Safe

 

Uber is incredibly convenient.  I use it multiple times per week (as I don’t own a car).  But I don’t want you to take it lightly.  Even though several of my friends have become drivers for Uber… still…

There are stories about Uber not working well with local municipalities — taking the stance of “We don’t care if we’re not permitted, you can’t stop us.”

There are stories about Uber not having thorough driver background checks, and even instances of abuse.

There are stories about Uber having inherent problems… and I’ve not experienced any of those myself or heard of this in Des Moines (we came late to the Uber game), but I do want you to be safe.

  • Move your pick-up location to a well-lit area
  • Cancel a ride if something doesn’t feel right
  • Use the rating tool honestly and often
  • Uber with friends if it’s late and you’re drinking
  • Be a safe, responsible adult and friend who takes precautions like any other situation

You will certainly save time and money!  That is for sure.

Gratefully,

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Stress-Free SustainabilityAdam Hammes is a sustainability author, motivational speaker, and consultant advocating for sustainable communities. He specializes in helping change agents avoid burnout and master the art of persuasion.

Check out Adam's book on Amazon, Audible and Kindle: "Stress-Free Sustainability."

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