What I Learned Using Uber for the First Time

Using Uber for the first time your Uber is arriving (courtesy Rico Marcelo and Uber on Facebook)

The Uber ride-sharing app is pretty intuitive, but I still had a few lessons to learn (photo courtesy Rico Marcelo for Uber on Facebook)

Until this month, I had used Uber one time, and that was with a friend who handled the app and all I had to do was get into and out of the car.

On most trips, I’m either driving myself, have a rental vehicle, or use public transportation. True confessions: on the few occasions that I’ve needed a point-to-point ride, I’ve hailed a cab, because that’s what I’m used to doing when I travel.

If ever there was a creature of habit, it is me.

The problem is that almost every cab I’ve taken in the last few years (except for one in Detroit) has been grungy. A couple of them had suspension and engine problems. The drivers were nice, but I’m sick of riding around in dumpsters.

Finally, at a recent conference in San Francisco, I needed to get around town and the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) rail system didn’t line up with where I was going.

I figured it was time to try ride-sharing, and where else to get started but in northern California? My experience was very positive – clean cars, nice drivers, good prices – and I’ll definitely use it again.

There are alternatives to Uber: Lyft, Didi in China, and some places have “homegrown” options, like Austin’s ride-sharing alternatives because Uber and Lyft were voted out of the city. (Update Oct 2018 – both Uber and Lyft are now available again in Austin.)

Tip One: Connect a Credit Card to the App Ahead of Time

I’ve had the Uber app on my phone for several years, but once I decided that I was really going to use it, I needed to fill out some profile information and connect a credit card, because it’s a cashless system.

You have the option to set up both personal settings and business settings – with different cards – so when it’s time to take a ride, simply toggle it to the right setting so you keep personal and business transactions separate. This is important for tracking expenses for taxes.

I’d recommend connecting your credit card data over secure, password-protected WiFi, preferably your own network at home if it’s encrypted. I was in a hurry and did it over regular 4G data while at an airport, which was probably dumb.

Upload a photo, too, so drivers will know what you look like when they’re trying to find you for pickups.

Tip Two: Do a Little Googling if You’re Dealing with Airports

I blew this – once I realized that BART from the San Francisco airport wasn’t going to work for getting to my hotel, I decided to just get on with trying out Uber.

Except, I wasn’t in the right place.

By the time I Googled something like “where Uber picks up at SFO” and learned that I needed to be at a terminal departure level, I’d missed my ride….and there’s a no-show fee if riders aren’t ready for pickup.

I texted the driver from within the app to tell him that I’d realized my mistake and was moving to the correct spot, but I never heard back from him.

Awesome. My first attempt to use the app, and it felt as though I was fulfilling every stereotype of middle-aged women screwing up technology. Then I decided that I was learning a lot in the process, I did it correctly the second try, and I do not need to expend a micron of mental energy worrying about whether I look foolish or not.

Tip – review the list of airports that allow Uber, because not all of them permit ride-sharing pickups or dropoffs.

Tip Three: You Can Challenge Charges Within the App

The first ride, the one I missed, was still showing up on my phone, with me as a passenger. In the app, the car on the app’s map indicated that it was halfway to the city from the airport….but I was definitely NOT in the vehicle.

To extricate myself from The Ride That Didn’t Happen, I had to hit Cancel on it, and the app said that I would be charged. Not knowing what else to do, I cancelled.

Later, I learned that you can challenge charges from within the app – look for the Help tab – to have a fare reviewed. I wrote a quick note about the first ride, explaining that I’d been in the wrong spot, gotten to the right spot, tried to contact the driver but no response, and did not take the ride although the app showed that I had.

They got back to me within hours and reversed the charge.

Tip Four:  Be Ready for Pickup

When you’re used to waiting 15-20 minutes for a cab to show up, it’s somewhat disorienting to learn how fast Uber drivers appear.

Uber San Francisco request screenshot (courtesy Uber)

Uber San Francisco request screenshot (courtesy Uber)

Don’t ask for one till you’re ready, and try to position yourself someplace where it is easy for the driver to see you and get to you.

You can schedule a ride ahead of time with the UberX option.

If you have a group, or lots of luggage or bags, ask for a larger vehicle with UberXL.

Tip Five: Tipping is Appropriate

One of the nice features of using Uber is how seamless it feels because it is cashless. No fumbling around for bills or a card, waiting for change, or waiting for the driver to swipe your card.

But what about tipping?

It is not required, but I think it is the right thing to do if the driver did a good job. They are only making a percentage of the fare, and the fares can be ridiculously inexpensive.

All of my rides were Pool (with other people) and two of them only cost $US3-4 each. Great for me that it’s so cheap, but there is no way that a driver can make decent money from fares like that, even if you multiply the amount by several passengers in a pool. The car “sharing economy” is not as rosy as some might believe for the drivers who make it happen.

As far as I could tell, I was the only one who tipped on any of my San Francisco pool rides, including after the long-ish ride into the city from the airport. It cost about $20 and I tipped $5 in cash.

Remember that trust between drivers and riders is built by post-ride reviews, which are quick and easy to do. I defaulted to a 5 star rating, except for one driver who was pleasant, but did not offer to help with luggage and dropped me off in an awkward spot where I had to dodge some traffic. He was the only driver I didn’t tip.

Have you used Uber or other ride-hailing services? Why or why not? Share your thoughts down in the comments….

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