Blasphemy Alert: Uber Is Overrated

[Cache #227]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

Please forgive me.  But I just don’t think Uber is that great.  This will shock my dad, to whom I have been defending Uber as a beacon of free enterprise and an often refreshing antidote to the cab companies’ filthy cars and gruff drivers with body odour and breath that could stop traffic.

The cabbies who typically have between little and no idea where a particular address is, even if it’s a 65-storey building with “Trump” plastered on top, and who cannot be troubled to lift a finger to their GPS and find out where the impossible-to-miss landmark just might be.

My Uber ambivalence may also shock a certain politically-seasoned cousin, who sees the service as a game-changing tool of public policy for the way it single-handedly boosts employment, kills gridlock and saves the environment (and I’m sure does much more), by matching the empty seats in anyone’s car to the people who want to sit in them.

And my Uber uncertainty makes me sound not just like a crank but also like a pitiable Luddite to a certain technology-minded old buddy, who whisks around his large family with UberXL, the sub-brand that provides SUVs for hire.

And it’s easy, so they say.  And cheaper.

Let’s focus on ease for a moment.  When I am in the downtown of my home city, which is where I usually am and which is where thousands of Uber cars are, I raise my hand in the air and a traditional cab almost always shows up in somewhere between 10 seconds and two minutes.  Uber takes longer in this circumstance, because I cannot raise my hand in the air and get an Uber car to pull over, because Uber cars are unmarked.  Instead, I have to use my phone’s Uber app to order the car with a few finger taps (I usually select UberX, Uber’s lowest-cost sub-brand).

Easy enough.  But the car will never show up in ten seconds from the moment I decide I need a ride, and the ETA provided by the Uber app is almost always pure fiction.  It will say “two minutes,” for example, for a lot longer than two minutes.  And the cute icon shown on my screen, which purportedly shows the precise location of the car that’s coming for me, is likewise a fantasy.  If the icon is to be believed, my driver is rarely more than a few blocks away, yet for whatever reason he chooses to drive forward for a little while, and then in reverse for a little while, and back and forth in this manner until he finally gets here at two to five times the promised length of time.

Or not at all.  Recently I waited at home for approximately 15 minutes for one of these two-minute show-ups.  I phoned the driver to see what was up (with Uber you can call or text the driver!).  He did not answer.  Finally, I received a message from Uber that told me my driver would not be showing up.  That my order had been cancelled.

Cancelled?  What is that?  I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

A variation of these events has happened a number of times.  Likewise there have been drivers who can’t find my place, despite my street number being posted on a huge sign for all to see.

Is Uber cheaper?  I actually haven’t noticed.  I tend to be less price sensitive because I am more concerned about being picked up when and where I ask to be.

Recently I suggested to an audience that there are no products, and there are no services.  There are only experiences.  Brand experiences.  Uber fits this paradigm perfectly.  With Uber, the experience is supposed to be everything.  But all too often, the experience is nothing less than a hassle, albeit a hassle wrapped up in a sexy, alluring package that creates the illusion we’re in control.

I know.  This all sounds blasphemous and cranky.  It even makes me feel old, and to even further date myself, I will confess that last night I used this thing called a “telephone” and called a cab company.  They answered after a few rings.  I spoke precisely these words (although I’m giving you a fake address): “123 Main Street, please.”  To which the voice on the other end replied, “Five to ten minutes.”  Then we each said “Thank you” and hung up.  Then the car showed up on time, without calling me first (like Uber drivers often do) to ask for directions.

It just doesn’t get any easier than that.  Even though the service still can, too often, stink.

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