Road Test: Uber

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - Si­mon Din­gle

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.

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