Road Test: Uber
Travelling as a visitor to Johannesburg used to be vexing. You could choose between sitting in traffic in a crappy rental car or catching expensive taxis that look and smell like something died inside. The only other option is really slow or unreliable buses – and they won’t help you when it’s late and you’ve been out on the town. It used to be an all-round desperate situation. Good thing Uber has launched in South Africa.
Uber is how God travels around tough cities like Jo’burg. You put the Uber app on your phone, sign up in a matter of seconds, tell Uber where you want to go and then watch on a map as a black luxury car comes to pick you up. Payment comes off your credit card automatically. It’s not exactly cheap, but it’s much more affordable than missing a meeting, getting arrested for driving drunk or dying in a fiery wreck.
The beauty of Uber is in its simplicity and elegance. The company was launched in San Francisco in 2009, and has picked up impressive venture funding for its global expansion. Johannesburg was one of the first cities targeted and Uber will soon be in Cape Town too, where it is currently undergoing testing.
Signing up for Uber is impressive in itself. The app asks for some basic info, a photo (so drivers will recognise you) and a credit card number. You can take a picture of your credit card instead of typing in the numbers, if you want. And then you’re ready to go.
When you call Uber, the app shows you a picture of the driver and you can send messages to them. You will either be picked up at the location automatically set on your phone, or you can specify somewhere nearby. When you’ve been dropped off you can also rate the driver, so the user community ensures a high quality of service
The base fair for an Uber ride is R60 and R3.90 is charged per kilometre, up to 18km, after which you pay R10.90/ km. The minimum total fair is R85 and you are charged R70 if you cancel a ride. There is a f lat rate of R550 to get from central Johannesburg areas to OR Tambo International Airport – the moment you tell Uber where you want to go it returns an estimated cost for the trip. No more nasty surprises from taxis.
I tested Uber with a group of friends one Friday night in Johannesburg. The first person to hail an Uber was collected after 10 minutes in Sandton, at around 21:00. Closer to midnight, the second person had their car on the scene within an impressive eight minutes. We were quoted around R140 to get from where we were in Sandton to Rosebank.
Uber cars are all luxury sedans – a CClass Mercedes Benz in our case – and the drivers are carefully selected. It’s defi- nitely a premium service, which makes it surprising that it doesn’t cost that much more than a regular taxi.