SME Chamber

Could UBER be part of a solution for our traffic problems ?

No wonder the taxi drivers in London and Paris protested angrily after the introduction of the UBER system in their respective cities.  UBER is already affecting their business in a big way and they are right to worry. So what is this UBER that everyone is talking about all over Europe? In a nutshell it matches people who need to go from one place to another within in a city with people who can offer a ride in their car to the desired location. The people providing the driving service are regular citizens looking to make some extra money on the side and not traditional taxi drivers. Having personally experienced just how good this system is performing in major cities such as Brussels, there is no doubt in my mind that this system could also work equally well in Malta. Once you try it, you will be simply amazed at how well the system works.

So, you start by downloading an App on your mobile phone or tablet. There is an app for all the popular mobile platforms. You will need to have a data connection on your device whenever you use it, but who doesn’t these days ?. Once you have downloaded and installed the app, you will need to create an account with UBER which is easy enough. You will be asked for your personal details and your credit card details as well. Don’t worry that your credit card might be abused; this is a tried and tested global system and comes highly recommended. When you create an account, you will be sent a key which you must then type in the first time you use the system. Once you have done that you are good to go.

So, how do you use it ? Simple, the next time you need to travel to a location, all you need to do is fire up your UBER app and select the destination. The app knows where you are already and immediately tells you how far away your driver is, even before you select your destination. You can also request a fare estimate which is supplied instantaneously. Once you click on the button to accept the terms and summon the driver, the location of the driver is shown on a map and you can also see approximately how long it is going to take the driver to get to your location. You can zoom in on the map and see exactly where the driver is and if you see that he is going the wrong way or cannot find you for some reason you can either call, text or even use one of the free messaging services to guide him. Once the driver arrives and you get into the car, the trip will have started. When you arrive at your destination the driver will click a button on his mobile to signal that the trip is complete. Through your mobile device, you will then be asked to rate the driver. This is an excellent feature of the system as it should weed out careless or inexperienced drivers through simple peer review. When initially you start the process you are always shown the driver rating and you can cancel your UBER order at any time if you see that the driver has a poor rating, or you don’t like him for some reason. You can also see a picture of the driver, the type of vehicle and his car registration number as well. The driver is also seeing where you are on his mobile device, knows your name and where you are from and uses the app itself to navigate to your location. Your credit card is only debited when the trip is complete. The way UBER payments work make the whole process easier as you don’t have to reach for your wallet for the money and the driver does not have to ensure that he has the correct change. There is also no possibility of the driver asking you for more money or cheating you in some other way. There is also no meter that the driver can fiddle with. You are tracked through your mobile device so there can be no disagreements with time taken or distance travelled.

Besides the above, which is, after all what one would expect the system to do to perform its core functions, the UBER system also allows you to share a ride with someone else. Say for example you are with a colleague and you both need to go to the airport. If your colleague also has an UBER account, you simply add the person to the ride and the cost of the ride is split equally between the two. Since payment is totally automated, there is no messy splitting of the fair in the traditional way and having to look for small change and so on which make it so easy to share a ride.

When the volume of people using the UBER system increases substantially such a on a Friday evening when people go out and therefore there is high demand, UBER informs you that the cost will be higher than usual and asks you if you want to accept this change. It will even inform you if you want to wait for the excessive demand to subside.

One of the things that totally amazes you when you try to use the service for the first time is the variety of people who are choosing to be drivers for UBER. Remember, that as mentioned above, these are not Taxi drivers. They are simply people looking to earn some extra money using their car. Because of this, and through my personal experience, I can tell you that they try to talk to you and are usually far better educated than your average taxi driver.  They are interested in knowing where you are from and what you do and try hard to strike up a conversation with you. They are also instructed to offer you bottled water and this they do every time although personally, I found this quite strange. It is in their interest that they make your ride as enjoyable as possible. You will be rating them when you get to wherever it is you want to go!

And don’t worry that your driver may pick you up driving a piece of junk because UBER even allows you to select the type of car you would like to use. You will of course pay more for a high end sedan than for a regular every day car.

Besides the sheer convenience of not having to walk to a taxi stand or call a taxi company the fares being charged by UBER are far lower than taxi fares even in major cities such as Brussels. For example, a trip from one of the hotels situated around the Shuman area in Brussels to Brussels airport would usually set you back approximately €55 whereas with UBER it costs €21 to €27 depending on the traffic conditions and at lean times it can even go down to €11!. The difference in price is striking but the service is the same if not better with UBER. On top of the cheap prices, you  always know beforehand the cost of your trip.

Applied to the Malta scenario UBER could definitely work. Distances are short and there should be no shortage of drivers. Consider for example, you have an errand in Valletta, using your car will mean the cost of the fuel which can be substantial if you include the extra fuel that you waste looking for parking. Most likely you will also end up having to either pay for your parking or at least for CVA. With UBER, the costs incurred by the driver will only be the fuel costs from your location to Valletta and most likely, if the system is well known he would very likely pick another passenger from Valletta on his way back. There is also the wear and tear on your car which you have to consider as well as the risk of having your car damaged either through a collision or through somebody scratching it which is all too common in places like Valletta.

The downside of the system could be safety concerns as you are in effect riding in a car with a stranger, however, with a Taxi there is also some of this risk element as I am sure many will agree. Taxi drivers are well known for arrogant behavior and for trying to extort money from unwary tourists for example. The peer review system should also help to warn potential users that a driver is unreliable. UBER also employ a vetting system which is tailored according to the country that the driver lives in. Furthermore, the fact that the system requires at least a basic knowledge of how to use a mobile phone, ensures that at least a basic level of education is required to become a driver and applicants need to be at least literate.

Article by Marcel Mizzi (GRTU Vice President, Finance & Administration)



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