I am an admitted Uber fan.
I’m addicted to the app. I’ll try to get an Uber even when there is an empty taxi idling in front of me, just on principle (and because it’s usually cheaper). I love the way Uber has freed me of the need to own a car. I love the way its driver-passenger rating system incentivizes mutually reciprocal good behaviour. I think Uber is safer than using a taxi. I love not using cash. And I even like the way the surge pricing system gets more cars onto the roads when it’s busy.
But mostly, I love the way it just works.
So when I got off the plane in Scotland recently to spend a week in Edinburgh, I had to go cold turkey. Uber isn’t in Edinburgh yet. Instead, Edinburgh drivers are mostly using Gett, a rival app to Uber that lets you hail a taxi from your mobile phone. So I used Gett for a week. The experience taught me one thing: Uber is going to win this war. Uber has a secret weapon that Gett does not, and it’s going to destroy the competition.
Gett works pretty much the same way Uber does — you plug in your location, it calls for cars, and pretty soon one shows up. Gett is actually available in more UK cities than Uber is, so I was curious to see whether Gett was any good, and whether it had a jump start that might lock Uber out of some key markets.
Even better, Gett was running a promotion. As long as I plugged in my destination ahead of time I could go anywhere in the city for £5. That’s a bargain. Black cabs in Edinburgh are not cheap.
The main difference between Gett and Uber is that Gett only hails taxis, not ordinary drivers. For that reason, a taxi driver told me, Edinburgh’s black cabbies are backing Gett heavily against Uber. They’re dreading the arrival of Uber, it turns out, which they regard as unfair competition at lower pay.
For my first few rides, all was well. I enjoyed my £5 trips across the city. As far as I could tell, Gett performed as well as Uber and aside from the design of the app there was no difference in service. And, it must be admitted, old school Hackney cabs are more comfortable than a Toyota Prius.
Maybe Gett could beat Uber in Edinburgh, I thought.
But then, on Saturday afternoon, it started raining. I tried hailing a cab through Gett and … answer came there none! There were no cabs on the little animated map, and no drivers answering my call.
I ended up calling a “private hire” minicab company on the phone. It was called “Computer Cabs,” and naturally a human answered. LOLs. She said a cab would be on its way. I asked how long it would take, and she replied she didn’t know. As soon as they can get to me.
So I stood around for 10 minutes like an idiot, and then hailed a cab on the street.
It turns out that when there is peak demand for taxis — when it’s raining or rush hour — then cab drivers are happy to take riders who hail them in the street. They don’t respond to calls from Gett, which might require them to drive round the corner to where you actually are.
This is why Edinburgh drivers like Gett: It lets them get extra business they wouldn’t normally know about.
But it’s rubbish for people who aren’t standing on the main street, and who still need a ride.
With Uber, when peak demand kicks in, the app sets a price surge. Uber users hate the surge because it makes rides more expensive. But drivers love it because they know they will get more money. The Uber app’s price surge alerts more drivers, and more of them hit the street. That is why Uber is so reliable: There are always more Uber cars. Yet on Gett, the cars are maxed out when it rains.
And it rains a lot in Scotland.
The surge turns out to be the best thing about Uber. Sure, it hurts when you’re the one paying. But if you suck it up and average your Uber costs over all your monthly rides, then it’s really not that much more. And being able to get a ride anytime, anywhere is far better than only being able to get rides sometimes — which is Gett’s counter-proposition to Uber.
So, hate the surge. Everyone does. But it’s going to kill off Uber’s rivals.
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