LCT Editor Confession: I Took My First Uber Ride

Posted on October 26, 2015 by - Also by this author

Working in the media my entire career, I put a premium on telling the truth and full disclosure, or about 99% in each case.

So given all of my past regulatory and safety-related criticisms of Uber, I must confess publicly that I took my first Uber (X) ride on the morning of Monday, Oct. 26 for a 15-minute trip to my office.

I’ll say upfront: Had iCars, Deem or a limo industry-only app been available in Los Angeles, I would have no doubt hit the app, even if it cost more. What’s taking them so long, anyway? Uber’s been around since 2009 and I had managed to stay clean for six years. I support this industry and pay for personal reservation-based limo rides with NLA-member companies when I must.

I didn’t call a taxicab because after almost eight years as editor of the leading limousine trade magazine, I’ve gotten spoiled. Nothing wrong with cabs, but once you’ve discovered the virtues of chauffeured service, why go back? Also, it’s easier to tap an app than Google a cab company on my iPhone and call the number.

Here’s what led to my first Uber ride:

Whenever my personal car needs repairs, I take it to a mom-and-pop honest mechanic instead of a pricey dealership. My routine goes like this: Drop off car at 8 a.m.; walk 15 minutes to nearest LA Metro bus stop; take short bus ride to transfer point; wait 15 minutes for second bus; take short second bus ride to ending stop; walk 10 minutes to Bobit Business Media, home of LCT Magazine. Total bus/walk/wait time: 1 hour @ fare of $3.50.

On Oct. 26, I waited at least 20 minutes beyond the scheduled pick-up time for the first LA Metro bus, as three “Rapid Transit” buses whizzed by the stop, obviously not served by rapid options. Exasperated, I opened the Uber app which I had downloaded many months ago as an experiment but had never used. A driver showed up in less than 10 minutes for a 1.4x surge rate of $10.74 for the five-mile trip to the office.

My driver, Jonathan, picked me up at a corner Jack-in-the-Box parking lot in a black, late model Honda Accord with tinted windows and leather seats. He asked me my music and route preferences. I declined, so he turned up his reggae-rap to low volume. Dressed in T-shirt and long shorts, the 20-something Jonathan was friendly and polite. I used the opportunity to do what I like best: Ask lots of nosy questions.

Jonathan told me he’s been making “good money” in his four months as an Uber driver, quoting a $500 take from the past weekend. He also drives Monday and Tuesday mornings, and that’s just enough for him. He said he loves the flexibility. I went through all the questions about insurance, checks, maintenance, etc. He told me when he signed up with UberX, he had to wait two weeks for his background check to clear and had to take his car to an Uber inspection site before driving. For insurance, he said he’s automatically covered by Uber’s policy and has his own vehicle insurance. He told me about an incident in which a fellow Uber driver had an accident claim, but that the Uber insurer took so long processing it, the driver had to stay off the road several months. Jonathan said it would seem more worthwhile to handle a claim through his personal insurance, but that the incident may not be typical.

I asked him about going to LAX, which is at the center of a controversy about Uber pick-ups. The city has authorized but delayed implementing its policy on TNC pick-ups. He said LAX is blacked out on his Uber driver access program for pick-ups. He said Uber riders take shuttles to nearby airport hotels on Century Boulevard and then request rides. As of Oct. 26, Uber drivers were only allowed to drop off at the LAX terminals.

So here’s how I rationalize my recent Uber-ride: It’s my way of avoiding public transit. I’ve waited too many times at bus stops for late buses or scheduled ones that just never showed up. My tax dollars go toward a bloated, inefficient, bureaucratic, public-unionized behemoth that lacks market-incentives for customer service and efficiency. Compared to European public transportation, the U.S. version is the mother-lode of lame, lard-assed, lumbering ground transportation. $10.74 for Uber gave me much more value than $3.50 for public transit. Maybe we should just subsidize transit riders who lack other options with UberX shared ride and car pool accounts. It would save taxpayers money.

Although I won't make Uber a regular habit, I’ll take it when I get my car fixed until a limo or even a worthwhile taxi app gives me a choice. Oh, and Uber got me to work at 9 a.m. Right on time.

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