Uber: The new taxi service hoping to change getting a cab in London

With the Christmas party season now in full force, getting home after a couple of drinks is probably something you're putting a lot of thought in to.

Ask most London partygoers and they'll be able to give you an operational matrix of possibilities based on where they are and what the time is. My last train is... after that I get that train to there and then get a cab... after that it is... The list goes on through the night.

Uber, a start-up with huge ambition to become the de facto cab company of the world, has recently been expanding out beyond San Francisco, city by city. New cities now include London in the UK, and a number of European cities like Paris, Milan and Munich, even Moscow is on the list. 

Pocket-lint decided to try out the service to see if it really has got what it needs to become your default taxi service, especially as we suspect this month you'll probably be taking more cabs than usual. 

Signing up

To use Uber you've got to be a member and you've got to have the iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry app.

Creating an account is easy and to make things easier still the app will even use your camera to capture your credit card number so you don't have to waste time typing them in.

There is no approval process, or delay so you can use Uber straight away. For our test we signed up and made sure everything was good a couple of days ahead of the date we knew we were going to use the service, but we could have easily done this from a pub minutes before jumping in an Uber car.

The app

The service is all based around the app. There is no phoning a switchboard and haggling with a controller who is eating his dinner while he handles your call.

The app is incredibly simple. A map automatically pinpoints your location based on your smartphone's GPS, or if you know you are moving, or that's not 100 per cent correct you can define it yourself.

You then have the choice of three types of vehicle. UberX the entry-level tier, UberExec, filled out with mid-range cars, and UberLux, which is top of the range vehicles.

Pricing

Fares vary depending on traffic, weather and other factors, but that's okay based on the way Uber prices the journeys.

For UberX cars - normally a Toyota Prius, Merceded E-Class, or a Volkwagen Passat there is a base fare of £3, then depending on how fast your driver goes will depend on the cost. Under 11 mph its 32p a minute, over 11 mph and it's £1.75 per mile.

For UberExec You get a 2009 and above Mercedes E-Class, a BMW 5 Series, or the Audi A6 C7 Series. Prices here start at £4, with under 11 mph costing 48p and above costing £2.65 per mile.

UberLux is for when you want to impress and that's £5 as a base fee, 72p a minute under 11 mph, and £4.00 per mile above 11 mph. Cars for this class include the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8.

Our trip

Following the Pocket-lint Awards in London, we wanted to see what a late night Uber would be like to get us home. We signed up for the service, input our credit card details and then on the night pressed the relevant buttons.

Uber is really restricted to London at the moment, so getting an Uber home is easy, but getting an Uber into London not so much. After loading the app, it told us there would be an UberX with us in less than 12 minutes.

In that quick press of a button on the app, our details (why you have to be a member) had been passed on to Uber network. Any available driver within the Uber network (don't worry they are vetted) can pick it up and then head your way. A text confirms someone is coming to save you.

Francesk

Our driver; Francesk (4.7 star rating) turned up in 10 minutes in an E-Class Mercedes ready to take us home. We got the first text saying he was coming. Another telling us 5 minutes, and a final one saying he was there. We even got a call confirming he was outside the pub we were in. You don't give details of where you are going until you get in the car so for the driver it's a bit pot luck.

It turns out he lives in Surrey Quays, completely the wrong direction for Ascot, but is happy to take us nonetheless - we suspect he headed off to Heathrow afterwards. Francesk tells us he could have refused the job. 

Like many of the Uber drivers, explains Francesk, he is also a mini-cab driver and uses Uber to fill quiet times with his other jobs.

Drivers can be rated at the end of your route and that according to Francesk, makes the system a better place for everyone.

With no meter running there is no way to understand how much your journey is costing, however the app does feature a rough guide if you are worried about getting stung. We're not sure whether the app gives you a running total as you go - if it doesn't that would be a nice addition.

In the end we made four stops letting out various Pocket-lint team members along the way, and the price was half what our local mini-cab company had quoted us.

Francesk tells us that Uber is being very aggressive in its London pricing because it is keen to show that it's a great service, and for consumers that's great news. In the US we've heard that the price is the same or slightly more expensive, so pricing will vary from city to city accordingly. 

We're Home

At the end of journey there's nothing left to do but get out of the car and find your keys to your house.

Uber has your credit card details, remember, so getting payment off you is as easy as the driver saying you've got out.  That saves you stumbling out trying to work a cash machine, or worrying about having enough cash on you. In fact as long as you've got the app on your phone to tell you the car has arrived when you are picked up you don't even need the credit card present.

The next day an email receipt was mailed through, breaking down the costs, including times, pick-up and drop-off locations, as well as a map to see what route you took.

You also get a breakdown of the costs. In our case we had £73.79 in millage and £6.73 in time. You even get an average speed. Why we aren't sure, but it's a fun stat to know surely.

Verdict

We are throughly impressed with the Uber app, drive, and whole experience. The car was clean; it was a 2008 E-Class Mercedes, Francesk was friendly, and the price very reasonable considering what we did and asked for. A black cab would have cost a mortgage payment, while calling our local firm in Ascot would have caused an hour wait. Here we were in a cab heading home in 10 minutes. 

We also like the idea that if we go to another Uber supported city we can just use the app there - places like San Francisco and New York have much better coverage than London at the moment - and that's great if you are a frequent traveller. We also like that you can opt to spilt the fare if there are multiple Uber users in the car at the same time.

The only real drawback in the UK at the moment is that it's really only available in London and while you can commandeer an Uber to go around or leave the capital, getting one to go into it is a different matter.

Still this is a no-fuss, pain-free way to get home if you've missed that last train home, or you just fancy travelling in style for once.



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