Uber has come to Wellington, New Zealand, in the past few weeks. An alternative to the traditional taxi, Uber allows you to connect directly with a private driver in real-time, book them for trips, see how far away they are, without the need to carry any kind of cash or payment, in a secure manner.

Here’s how it works. You register yourself and a credit card at Uber. Once registered, you download the app from your App store and you’re good to go. When you want a car, you start Uber, pin where you are, and you can request a quote if you wish. The car is dispatched to you with an ETA. You get a picture of the driver (including their rating) along with the type of car and it’s registration number, the cars have no branding on them otherwise. Once you are picked up you are driven and dropped off at your destination, the driver logs the job, your credit card is billed, and an Invoice is emailed to you directly. You then provide anonymous feedback on the driver.

I caught a car from the central city the other day to test it. The app showed me the cards in the area, and within three minutes I was being picked up. The car was clean, the driver tidy, and we had a good chat about it all meant.

Safety has to come first and I have no doubt in the next little while we will see the Taxi Federation up in arms about Uber. But here’s the thing, it’s likely to be safer. While it doesn’t have a camera, it has things that the standard taxis don’t necessarily. First, you know who the driver is and they know who you are including cellphone numbers. You can see the driver’s rating. Uber doesn’t allow just anyone to get in a car, they have to be commercially licensed (like a taxi driver) and they have to be vetted for criminal record. Cars have to meet safety standards and insurance is mandatory. Trips are recorded in terms of pickup, route, and destination. The fact that your personal information is shared with the driver is a significant advance on normal transactions. Plus, there is no cash involved. You get in, ride, get out, and the payment happens in the background.

For the drivers, the cost overheads are of course a lot less.

The lash back has started from the taxi companies who are increasingly nervous about the service. This is a simple example of new technology destroying old business models. Unfortunately for traditional taxis, they must now adapt or die. Even Wellington airport has allegedly told Uber drivers that if they catch them dropping off or picking up people they will “ban” (I assume this means trespass them) from the airport proper. Good luck with that, given these are non-branded cars they are likely to struggle. Putting that aside, that kind of aggressive approach to Uber, if it is true, shows that it is threatening the airport’s revenue stream. Quite frankly, good. Why should we have to pay $8 and more to get a taxi from the airport? What do I get for that? Answer. Zip. Nothing. Nada.

Taxis as they stand today and organisations that extract a grandiose amount of cash from them, such as airports, are in trouble here. The Uber service is better, safer, faster, cheaper, and arguably more flexible.

I asked my driver who was using them? “Geeks mostly so far.”

Inebriated people can be a bit of a challenge, because they tend to have fat fingers when they are dragging the pin to where they need to be picked up…

Uber is international. When I land in Australia, I fire up the Uber application and all the same rules apply. Or anywhere for that matter.

I was dubious at first, but have to say it’s been a pleasant experience. So here’s the thing Wellington, for the next week or two, Uber is in test mode. That means that you get two free trips a week while they bed in. What would have cost me $35 yesterday was free of charge. Now, the cost of that trip yesterday (when I checked) was about $10 less.

I’ll certainly be making the switch. Given it’s free for a couple of weeks, registering is a good option.

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