Notes from West London · Technology

Why I won’t be signing up for Uber anytime soon

Like many decisions this one is based on a combination of personal experience and stories in the news. I hadn’t signed up for Uber (the cab hire App) before last Friday and, based on our night out in Ladbroke Grove, I won’t bother anytime soon.

One of my friends is very happy with Uber, has the App, uses it all the time. I am happy with what I’ll call my blended approach to public transport. Here in West London we have good bus and Underground services and a local mini-cab firm that I would happily recommend to anyone. When I was going to a funeral at the start of the month and my car wouldn’t start they turned up within 5 minutes and got me to the crematorium in plenty of time, and waited around until I was sure that they’d got the right place. (My car needed the battery replaced, all working fine now.) I am happy with black cabs and night buses too for late night travel.

On Friday night, to get from our part of West London to a low-key gig in Portobello Road, my friend booked an Uber. It arrived, after some phone calls and misunderstandings about GPS and where exactly we were, 5 minutes or more later. I counted 3 black cabs driving past in that short time. The driver did not drop us at our destination. He left us north of the Westway, a part of the Portobello Road I had never previously walked down, and he told us that he couldn’t drive us where were going because it was No Entry. “And it’s only 2 minutes’ walk away.” Having driven those streets I know that you can go right and left and left again to get to where we wanted to go. But we walked, in the rain, on a Friday night in January, for 6 minutes, to get to the address we had given him.

After the gig, and a very interesting chat about literature, philosophy, haddock and cod with the chap at the fish & chip shop near Ladbroke Grove (he is on the verge of getting his PhD in Philosophy), my mate booked another cab through Uber. The last Hammersmith & City Line train was just pulling into Ladbroke Grove station. It would have taken us most of the way home. My instinct, after decades of late-night bus and tube travel, was to run for the train. Instead, with further misunderstandings about locations (ours and the Uber driver), and calls to and from two different drivers, and a cancelled cab, we waited 15 minutes, in the rain, after 1am, for the Uber cab to come. I counted seven black cabs driving past, available for hire, while we were waiting. Having missed the last train my next instinct would be to take a black cab. And, for one reason or another, the atmosphere on the streets around Ladbroke Grove station was what some of my friends would call “moody”. Still, the Uber did arrive, and we made it home safely. And, for me, it was a free ride – my friend pays through the App and I haven’t paid him back yet. But that doesn’t really sweeten the deal. I would rather have paid my share for a licensed black cab and avoided those 15 minutes, in the rain.

This article on the Guardian website today gives me a more general reason to feel uneasy about the Uber model. For late-night travel I will continue to use night-buses, last trains and licensed black cabs, and, thanks to what I’ve read today I will feel rather more comfortable about it.

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