[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]uture-thinking Uber is far more than a taxi app – from helicopter transfers to ice cream delivery it is transforming the way people experience city life.
Founded in 2009 as a luxury car service in San Francisco, it has since become (an albeit controversial) US$40 billion marketplace – one generally loved by consumers and hated by competing cab companies, which it undercuts.
By providing an on-demand, location-based technology platform for hailing taxis, Uber has enabled millions of drivers around the world to work for themselves, passing on a percentage of their earnings to the company in return.
Uber is now available to use in 60 countries around the world, from Finland and Israel, to New Zealand and Vietnam.
A range of vehicles set at different benchmarks in terms of pricing typically range from Uber Lux at the top, to Uber Exec, Uber XL and UberX nearer the bottom. When demand is high, rates automatically go up to incentivise more drivers to be on the roads, (this is called surge pricing).
However, the cashless service means fares can be automatically split with friends, and you don’t need to worry about tipping. Another nice perk is are being able to play your own music through Spotify.
If you have used Uber before, you will know all this – but here are 12 things you might not have heard about.
Last summer saw the arrival of Uber Pool, a pick-up service whereby people get a significant discount if they share their journey with a stranger en route. Also known as Uber Pop depending where you are in the world (it used to be in France but was recently banned), it often means it’s cheaper to use than having your own car. It’s also better for cities – both in terms of congestion and the environment.
2. Food delivery
Uber Eats is a new meal delivery service that is partnering with local restaurants – it tends to work between certain times (11am and 2pm, for example) and once you have selected your location, it shows the menu of dishes available in your area for delivery. Pulled pork sandwich with creamy coleslaw? It is available in Austin, Chicago, LA, New York, San Francisco and Toronto. On Fridays when it’s hot, Uber sometimes gives away free ice cream.
3. Black cab partnerships
After much protesting from drivers of London black cabs, Uber began offering customers the option of booking one through its app via Uber Taxi last June. It won’t be any cheaper but you will benefit from an iconic five-seat vehicle, some chirpy banter and a cabbie with the Knowledge.
4. Drivers rate passengers
Everyone knows that you can rate your driver from one to five stars but did you know they also rate you? You can’t find out your rating unless you ask them nicely, and you can be sure that if it’s low, you might have a problem hailing one next time you try. The best advice is don’t get drunk and throw up inside the car.
5. Banned in more than 25 places
With any disruptive technology there will be people who are upset. Governments and city leaders are trying to get a handle on how to balance the demands of local cab firms who are protesting (sometimes violently) about losing their livelihoods, with issues of safety (in some places Uber drivers aren’t properly background checked), so have taken steps to ban it altogether.
According to businessinsider.com, it is is completely banned in Euegen, Oregon and Nevada in the US; Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telengu in India; Fukuoka in Japan; and the whole of Thailand.
It is partially banned in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and some parts of Australia (Western and Victoria).
Operations have been suspended in six US destinations (Anchorage, Portland, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Panama City Beach and San Antonio), as well as Spain and South Korea.
It is banned but operating in Cape Town, New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Taiwan and Queensland.
6. In-app panic button
After allegations of assault and rape, an in-app panic button has been added to the app for users in India, immediately notifying the police of a threat or attack. It’s likely to be rolled out in other destinations as well, such as Chicago. Location details can also be sent to up to five friends or family members.
7. Book a courier
In New York you can use Uber Rush to request a messenger to come and pick up packages/dry cleaning/documents from your home or office to be couriered across town within minutes. You can also ask them to bring you your lunch or hand-deliver a bunch of flowers.
8. Socialist chauffeurs
Where capitalism isn’t welcomed, there is People’s Uber China – a nonprofit model that allows private car drivers to simply cover their costs. Cars are branded red on the app.
9. Hail a helicopter
In July 2013, Uber Chopper was released to wealthy New Yorkers looking to escape to the Hamptons for a long weekend. A one-way flight cost US$3,000. It was also used at the Cannes Film Festival. A competing helicopter charter app called Blade debuted this summer.
10. Price cap for emergencies
After scandals around surge pricing reaching four to eight times the normal amount during the Sydney terrorist cafe siege and storms in New York, Uber agreed to limit the hikes during emergencies and disasters to 2.8.
11. Military drivers
Uber has created a new programme in the US called the Uber Military Families Coalition – between it’s launch in the autumn and February this year, it had 10,000 service members, military spouses and veterans sign up, making US$18 million between them. It hopes to have 50,000 members by the early next year.
12. Self-driving cars
At the beginning of the year, Uber began experimenting with driverless cars at its research facility in Pittsburgh – it may not be long until you are using your smartphone to communicate with robots.