Using the Uber app has saved me money

Uber helps you book a taxi or private car to take to your desired destination for a fee. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Uber helps you book a taxi or private car to take to your desired destination for a fee. -- PHOTO: AFP 

This morning, I was surprised to read a story about Mr Joverst Lee, who was charged a whopping $97 for a trip from Beach Road to Yio Chu Kang, allegedly driven by an Uber driver.

You see, I've been using the app for the past three months, and I recommend it to practically all my friends, even telling them they can save a few dollars if they "Uber it" home during peak-hours or past midnight, instead of hailing a regular taxi.

For those of you unfamiliar with the online ride-booking app, Uber basically helps you book a taxi or private car to take to your desired destination for a fee that could be more expensive or cheaper than booking a regular cab with Comfortdelgro, depending on the time and availability of cars to book.

In Singapore, there are three types of services you can book through Uber: Uber Taxi, which allows users to request and pay for a taxi, like a TransCab or CityCab taxi; UberX, which allows users to book private cars like a Toyota Corolla or a Nissan Sunny; and UberExec, a premium service where you can book a more fancy car like a BMW 5-series or a Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

The minimum fare for an UberX ride starts from $8, while the minimum fare for an UberExec ride starts from $12.

I commute by taxi a few times a week for work or to go home, but I find myself increasingly relying on Uber to book a ride because I usually face difficulties booking a ride using apps like the ComfortDelgro taxi booking app, or GrabTaxi, during the peak hours of the morning between 9am and 10am, or between 10pm and 11pm on a weeknight.

I've been driven around in a Mitsubishi Lancer, Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Epica and a Honda Civic on my last few trips using UberX. Each time, I've paid between $11 and $13 for a car ride from my office in Toa Payoh to Orchard Road, or $8 to get me from Andrew Road, off Marymount Road, to Toa Payoh. That seems reasonable to me.

Some of these trips even worked out to be a dollar or two cheaper than booking a regular taxi.

During peak hours where the availability of cars are limited, a tiny lightning bolt will appear on the app to indicate that the rates will be more expensive - sometimes 1.5 times or twice the usual rate. But it is easy to tap and find out what the estimated fare cost before you book a ride on Uber.

There is no specific type of Uber driver - one day, you might meet a young man in his early 20s driving a Toyota Corolla and the next, a man in his 50s driving a Mitsubishi Lancer. On the app, you are able to see the full name of the registered driver you have booked, and are given his contact number.

You register a credit card for payment, which is charged automatically each time you complete a booked ride with Uber. That means you don't even have to take out your wallet or pay cash for your ride. You are also automatically prompted on the app to rate the driver (out of five stars) and provide feedback when the trip ends.

So when I read about Mr Lee's claims that the driver had approached him and he had to pay him money at the end of his trip, it seemed dodgy to me. A $97 bill to ride in a Honda private car from Beach Road to Yio Chu Kang seemed even more absurd. But a spokesman for Uber later said the alleged driver is not a registered Uber driver.

I have heard of hefty charges from taking Uber, and I know of friends who have paid $80 to get them from Marina Bay Sands to River Valley Road. But that was during the peak F1 weekend when it can be an hour-long wait for a regular taxi, and it was for a premium UberExec vehicle.

In my experience using Uber, there was probably just one instance where I had a less than satisfactory experience. I booked a Mercedes E-Class white taxi to take me from Toa Payoh to Orchard Road, but the driver ended up driving down Thomson Road towards Bukit Timah Road instead of turning into Newton Circus, heading to Scotts Road. It was way off course.

He claimed to have been absent minded and missed the turn, but I did not believe him. Later, he asked to end our trip early and refund me some cash to prevent me from giving him negative feedback.

I declined, paid the full amount, and gave him a mediocre rating.

melk@sph.com.sg