Government // Mobile & Wireless
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8/30/2012
02:49 PM
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Uber Is Disrupting How Urbanites Get Around

Uber is one of the hottest startups in San Francisco and continues to expand from city-to-city. Using your smartphone, the service allows you to request a car for a ride. As a regular user of Uber, BYTE's Boonsri Dickinson took Uber for a spin.

Uber has changed my life. Within minutes, a driver shows up to pick me up and takes me wherever I want. The driver is always nice and pleasant, and even opens the door for me. Inside the car is water or gum, sometimes magazines.

All I have to do is turn on my smartphone, open up an Uber app and pin my location down and a personal driver is sent my way.

The regular towncar was a bit pricey, much more than a typical cab so it took me a while to become a regular user. But it happened recently, and it's kind of addicting because it makes it really easy to get a driver. I was happy to be added to the beta program called Uberx -- all powered by hybrid cars to be more competitive with taxis.

I took Uber to work, using both the Uberx and regular Uber black car to compare the price differences. The base fare for a black car is $8 compared to an Uberx, which is $5.75. The SUV is more, starting at $15. The sliding scale applies to per mile and per minute charges. For me it cost about $20 to go to work in the Uberx and $30 in the towncar.

You don't have to worry about paying the driver directly; Uber saves your credit card information, so at the end of a trip, it automatically charges the card with the tip included. When you're done with your trip, a receipt is emailed to you. You get a map of your journey, including details like how far you traveled.

The hybrid car option is still invite only. Sign up here if you want to be added to the wait list.

So you have to wonder, why didn't Uber exist before? The adoption of smartphones has allowed app-powered limo companies to disrupt the traditional taxi dispatch system. Uber cab drivers have an iPhone in their car, so anyone with an iPhone or Android can download the Uber app on their phone and at the touch of a button book a personal driver. This beats having to hail a cab down, or call in and hope a cab comes -- or call hours ahead of time to schedule a private ride from a limo driver.

Ryan McKillen, a software engineer at Uber, said low-cost location-aware smart phones are what makes Uber possible.

"We can dispatch cars and match clients and drivers with just a touch to a screen. Clients can watch cars drive to them in real time. As time goes on, challenges of software engineering that were once difficult and expensive become easier and cheaper. Delivering the Uber experience before smart phones just wasn't possible," McKillen told me.

Other competition is moving -- offering a cheaper option. There's SideCar and Lyft, which also provide on-demand rides. Lyft cars have a big fluffy pink mustache hanging on the front bumper and operate instead through a network of people who want to share rides. Then of course there are the taxis that roam around the city, unconnected via smartphones -- that can be hailed down if you're lucky. For the time being, there seem to be plenty of options for a ride, most available at the touch of a button on your smartphone.

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