Uber Sydney Review: The Car Service Of The Future Is Not Without Issues

I hate cabs. Hate them. I'm a Sydney-sider and when I get into a cab, it's because I have no other option. If I can, I walk or catch the train. Uber is a private car service born out of San Francisco that you book luxury transport with the flick of an app, and it promises to revolutionise the way Sydney-siders get around. We tested Uber and found out that some pretty serious unanswered questions lie beneath the surface. Update: Uber has officially launched in Sydney.

What Is It?

Uber is an app client you download to your smartphone that lets you book a driver to pick you up. A black Holden Caprice arrives within minutes to whisk you quietly, comfortably and luxuriously to your destination. Once you're there, you needn't hand over any cash. Your pre-registered credit card is automatically billed by the driver for the journey.

Uber is in a soft-launch mode in Sydney at the moment. It's still testing the waters in a limited beta test. When they go live towards the end of the month (so we're told), hundreds of drivers will be available to take you around whenever you need it. Once Sydney is sorted, Uber reportedly plans to launch in Melbourne in the first quarter of next year.

As far as cost goes, it is a premium service but it's only about 15 per cent more expensive than a traditional cab service.

Using It

My decision to book an Uber car stemmed out of sheer curiosity and laziness. I had been at a Telstra media event in Surry Hills, Sydney and found myself halfway between my house in Mascot and the train station I'd need to go to to get home. It was 20 minutes by foot in one direction, 15 in the other.

I fired up the Uber app to see if there were any cars near me. Thankfully, one driver wasn't too far away at all. I booked the driver and instantly, he sent me a message saying he was 10 minutes away. Start the clock.

The Uber service allows you to scroll anywhere around a map for a pickup, but the only catch is, the pickup is instantaneous. You have to be ready to go as soon as you click the Book Pickup button. No advance bookings just yet.

I checked my stopwatch. Eight minutes. I watched my driver slowly approach me on the app's live map. Very impressive. As soon as he was within 100 metres, he texted me again.

"Your Uber car has arrived!"

Clock-stop: 10 minutes and three seconds. Right on time, and arrived my car had.

A beautiful large, black four-door Holden Caprice rolled up to meet me and I climbed in. My driver apologised for not getting the door for me, saying that we were on a busy road. I apologised in return, saying that I didn't know it was the policy. How foolish of me. I told him the address and we began the 10-minute trek to Mascot.

My driver was polite, well dressed and a good conversationalist. What makes a good conversationalist? Someone who knows when it's time to shut-up. The worst thing about a taxi in my opinion, besides playing guess the odour, is the inane conversation. It usually starts with "All politicians are liars", "everything's too expensive" or something-something "Juliar". The worst cab driver experience I had was when the cab driver began letching out the window at pretty girls every 10 metres. I told him I was married and therefore not interested (which is true), to which he replied "no worries, more for me!". Ugh. None of this would ever happen with Uber.

I took a few photos during my journey and asked my driver a few questions about Uber. He's been kept pretty busy in the last few weeks during the soft launch, and he adds that there's usually someone always on the road so the service can run 24/7.

His driving style is polite, courteous and sensible. No rushing for lights, cutting in front of people or remarking on other driver's ability (or lack thereof).

I took the back seat and noticed that the Caprice has a much longer wheelbase than the exterior lets on. It's designed as an executive limosine and comes appointed with an interactive screen in the rear of each seat, a selection of magazines and periodicals in the seat pockets, refreshments, candies and two chilled bottles of water. I am enveloped in a luxurious pod of tan leather excellence and loving it.

We arrive at our destination and I'm let out of the vehicle and thanked for my patronage. I thank him in return for the pleasant journey and wish him luck for the future. I really want this service to succeed here. It's bringing civility back to a vile city to get around.

My phone pings with a new email, and I have just been sent a receipt for my $28 journey from Uber. That exact route costs only $20 in a traditional cab, but the experience is well worth roughly an extra 15%. That's the equivalent of a decent tip. I walk into my house, refreshed, relaxed, and ready to do some more writing.


Uber has had a rocky time of it recently. Before it set up camp in Australia, Uber was fighting off legal threats left and right in the US, levelled at it by various taxi cab and transport companies and agencies.

In September, the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association -- an industry group that represents over 1000 transport companies -- warned passengers against "rogue apps" and services that may put passengers at risk.

Reported The Verge of the warning:

The passenger is placed at-risk for personal safety, uninsured accident claims, fare gouging and other illegal activity," the association said.

Now it's worth pointing out that Uber -- like other cab companies in Australia -- doesn't employ drivers, nor does it own cars. It connects passengers with limo drivers via an app. That's a good thing for Uber, but something to be wary of when you're a passenger.

Taxi companies require their drivers to display the meter, a license and some other form of identification and fare structure. With Uber, none of this is available. You have to take your driver's word that he's licensed, you don't know how much it's costing you per kilometre and you can't check the fare before your credit card is charged.

Also, you have no idea where you stand with insurance when you step into an Uber car, either, which might concern some people.

Indeed it is concerning some folks. Uber is already under close scrutiny from authorities.

On top of all that, you're still, for all intensive purposes, stepping into a car with a stranger. I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but it sets of the old stranger-danger alarm signals all over.

Should You Use It?

Uber is a fantastic service. It gives passengers in cities more transportation choice in a place where transportation is a constant hassle. To order up a luxury chariot on your smartphone and melt into the leather all the way to your destination is the dream, isn't it?

Before you ride, though, make sure you're comfortable with what you're getting into. Ask questions of your driver, double check the license plate of the car that's picking you up and follow your gut. If you don't feel safe, don't ride.

Uber is a great idea and a wonderful experience that could do with a little more transparency to make it perfect.

Disclosure: Luke Hopewell received $20 worth of Uber credit thanks to a coupon offer.


    Dude, the 20 minute walk wouldn't have killed you.

    just sayin'...

      It's almost as if he writes for a tech news website and thought the new service is something he could write on?

        Yeah, I get that this is an obvious plug but I'm just looking out for a fellow tech heads health.

        Can't write when you're dead.

        Once again... Just sayin'

    Thanks for the review, Luke. I love the idea, but not knowing the fare structure, or what your credit card is going to be charged is a tricky one for me.

    Oh, and you might want to check on your "intensive purposes". Didn't you read Angus's Lifehacker article (http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2010/09/ten-misheard-expressions-to-avoid-in-your-writing/)?

    "... for all intensive purposes..." ?

      Professional writers should probably know the phrase is "for all intents and purposes".

      I am shocked and a Paul about this story.

      Lol. I noticed that too.

    Seems like a good idea, some of those concerns are legitimate though. It would be good to know what kind of vetting process is undertaken on the drivers in use. I'd totally use this late at night instead of waiting in a cab rank for 2 hours, but I'm not sure if many drivers would want to pick me up!

    I've used UBER in the USA and it had a few teething issues on launch in new markets over there as well, but they quickly ironed out those teething issues.

    I've used it in Sydney so far quite a bit - and the convenience of it is unparalleled. It is great to see a company focused on service to hit the Australian care hire market.

    For reference, the phrase is "for all intents and purposes".

    Isn't $28 (Uber Service) Vs $20 (Traditional Cab) a 40% price difference?


      I think maths may not be this journalist's strong suit

        Nor English.

      That was going to be my response twas in my mind the rest of the article.

      +1 there is a big difference between a 15% difference and a 40% difference

    As long as the car has HC plates it's a registered hire car - thus the driver should be professionally licensed and insured, just as a cab would be.

    might want to brush up on your maths as well Luke. 28 is 40% more than 20, not 15%.

    I also found it to be 40-50% more than my typical journey.

    All those disclamers and warning. Are you sure.

    From the photo, the Car had HC plates, that means it is a licensed Hire Car. So it i sno different to calling up a Hire Car or limo company and speaking to someone other the phone to make a booking, without all the hassle of course.
    Also Hire Car drivers have to be licensed in a similar manner to Taxi drivers, I'm not sure what the difference are but im sure you can make an effort to look that up try http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/content/hire-car-tourist-vehicles

    So unless UBER are letting any old driver and or car use their service which would be illegal since you cant run a hire car service except from a Car with HC plates.
    So Basically all you need to do is ensure the CAR has HC plates and you should be OK, AS far as the driver is concerned why not ask for their "Authority to drive a Hire Car" that should put your mind at ease.

    As long as the car has HC plates in NSW (or VHA/VHB/VHC plates in Victoria when it launches) then it is licensed and no different than calling the Limo company yourself. If not, then I wouldn't touch it. Things would descend very quickly where you don't know who is legitimate and who is not, when travelling overseas there are so many dodgy cabs that when you order a taxi from the hotel, you never know if you are going to get a real taxi or you are just jumping into someones car.

    Cabs are already too expensive. Another 15% on top of that is nuts!

    Why is this story at the top of the list again? It was published 16 Nov. Who is getting paid by Uber from Gizmodo? Having said that. I like the idea of the service and will give it a go.

      @sim @moonhead The service came out officially yesterday and we tested the service 2 weeks ago. Brought it back because many people missed it the first ime and it's news worthy. We do that from time-to-time with phones, too. That simple.

        Can I make a suggestion? Because I see a lot these article bumps (and I think they're great!)

        How about adding a footer to bumped articles with a small update explaining the bump?

          Amendment, because now I notice there's a tiny little update in the first paragraph. Maybe bold it or something?
          I didn't even notice it, honest!

    Isn't this the same story from like 2 weeks ago?

    The service seems (more) legit (than Luke is letting on). See http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/content/applying-hire-car-operator-accreditation
    & http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/content/hire-car-drivers-responsibilities

    Why does this story seem to push the cab company line about 'stranger danger'? If you are paying electornically (which you are) there is a full trail that connects you with the driver. Unlike the dirty, smelly cab I hailed the other day that had an ID card that looked nothing like the driver who was probably working withourt a visa and who yelled racist (against aussies) rants at perceived bad driving by others. I told him to stop and got out, I felt OK because I'm a large man, but I'd pity any woman who got that guy, completely untraceable. It's the current cab system that foists 'stranger danger' on us, not this new one. How about some balance instead of pushing the irrational garbage coming from the lousy existing cab system that wants desperately to protect their low service gravy train?

    Uber is cheaper, like everything in the USA.
    When Uber x startes here that should be cheaper than taxis.
    Taxis are a rip off and they never know where they are going anyway.
    The Australian Taxi Industry Association are criminals. $100,000 for a taxi licence. What a joke.

    When you can't afford Uber, try

    Phorego - The new kid on the block, is available on 3 continents, in 5 languages for PCs, Tablets and Smartphones. Allows public to share rides, allows businesses, universities and communities to create their own rideshare groups with carpooling/vanpooling features. No fees.

    If you want to experience a comfy ride every time you travel the best thing that you can do is to rent a car.If you are doubtful on where you can get a rent a car service visit here at
    http://brizziana.edublogs.org/for they will provide what you need and want.

    So you paid 40% more than a taxi. $8 on a $20

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