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Korecki: Uber a way to get around cabbies from hell

Sun-Times Political Reporter NatashKorecki

Sun-Times Political Reporter Natasha Korecki

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Updated: January 29, 2013 6:15AM



Sitting in the leather-clad back seat of a Lincoln Town Car, I looked out the window and thought about how smooth the ride was.

My wait time for this private car? Five minutes.

My driver? Extremely polite.

Credit card? Not a problem.

My experience? Pretty darn great.

No wonder the cab industry wants this outlawed.

This is the back of a private car set up by Uber. The company was established a year ago in Chicago and elsewhere around the country. Combining innovation with a bit of class, Uber will shuttle you anywhere and doesn’t even require a phone call.

It’s pretty much the inverse experience of using a Chicago cab.

The drivers don’t chatter on their phones, don’t throttle you by slamming on the brakes and punching the gas, and won’t give you the cold death stare if you say you want to use a credit card.

Download the app on your smartphone and it will find your location and offer an estimated wait time, usually less than five minutes. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can text your address.

It will automatically charge the credit card you have registered with it.

This sure was different from my most memorable credit card experience with a cabbie. He actually yelled at me. “Why didn’t you tell me you had a credit card? I wouldn’t have taken you!” By the time I tried to point out that all cabs are supposed to accept them, he had ordered me out of the cab.

A couple of my friends are Uber devotees and recommended it as an alternative to cabs: a little higher quality, at a higher cost. The taxi industry in Chicago and elsewhere has legally challenged Uber, accusing it of circumventing Chicago and Illinois consumer-protection and fair-practices laws. They say Uber doesn’t inspect its cars to make sure they pass regulations. They also accuse Uber of not being upfront with customers about a 20 percent gratuity tacked on the bill and that the driver gets just half. The tech blog Techcrunch reports that the money does get passed along to the drivers, but the drivers kick back a fee to Uber per ride for getting the business.

I thought of Uber one recent day when, as a reporter, I had two lengthy trips to make.

The first was in a cab I hailed in River North. I was several minutes into the ride before I could get on my seat belt, part of it having been pushed down into the seat.

And I needed it. My cabbie already had cursed at someone, cut someone off and was doing the traditional hard stops and quick starts. I put away my iPhone because I was getting nauseous. I then had to endure my driver’s animated phone conversation. At least it was a hand-free call.

I realized my stomach would never survive my later, lengthier trip with this driver.

That’s when I thought of Uber.

Once I arrived at my stop, I downloaded the app and put out a request for a pickup. The app had a hiccup, so I texted Uber. I got an immediate response that told me the name of the driver.

When he showed up, he asked for me by name and actually got out of his car and helped me carry a heavy box I was lugging around. My seat belt worked as it should. The driver never chatted on the phone.

The bill turned out to be about 15 percent more than what the cabbie had estimated it would cost me. But I knew that ahead of time and didn’t mind.

The ride? So smooth that I pulled out my laptop and wrote most of the column that you just read.



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