Ethan Banks On productivity.

How Uber Charges You Money, But You Get No Ride


I spent part of last week in Seattle, a city known for its frequent rain. While caught in some weather with my lovely wife, we felt that grabbing an Uber was preferable to walking back to the parking garage. Being on the road, we weren’t prepared to handle a steady downpour.

I fired up the Uber app for the first time in a long time, as I’m not in need of Uber services very often. Hmm. Things had changed since the last time I hailed a ride. Some major GUI changes had happened, along with the app requesting an upfront commitment of a little cash before requesting a pickup. Um…okay. That’s new, but that makes sense. I suppose the cash commitment means that fewer people would cancel their ride after the driver accepts it, and that’s fair enough.

Here’s where it gets ugly, though. We’d hailed a ride during a rush hour in Seattle. There were a lot of cars on the streets. While it wasn’t gridlock, it was busy. An Uber driver accepted my request, and then a few moments later, I get a call. More or less, the driver said, “I’m not that close to you, and it’s going to take me a while to get where you are due to traffic. You can walk to where I am several blocks away, or you can wait. It’s up to you.”

Waiting made no sense for us, in that if we just walked a few more blocks, we’d be back at the parking garage anyway. We might as well just tough it out in the rain. The downtown Seattle traffic just wasn’t Uber-friendly. I told the driver I’d cancel the ride, which I did.

The Uber app then told me it would charge me an additional $5 for the driver’s time if I cancelled. I still cancelled, but the additional charge left me a little cranky.

  • Why did the driver accept the ride, knowing he wouldn’t be able to make it to us?
  • There was very little “driver’s time” to be accounted for. He accepted, called me in less than a minute to say he wouldn’t be able to pick us up, and left us standing in the rain to figure it out.
  • It feels like I got scammed out of $5 and change by a driver who saw a chance to take advantage of Uber’s current algorithm. He made a little money just by sitting in traffic and accepting rides he might not have to deliver on. That’s a pretty good deal.

The oddest thing was the realization that with all of the negative press around Uber in the last year, I rather despise the company anyway. If even half the reports are true, there is no redemption for their corporate culture. Add to that the new app features that allow drivers to game the system at customer expense, and Uber feels like a racketeering organization.

Uber might be a unicorn, but it’s a unicorn with encephalitis and a broken leg. Next time, I’ll just hail a cab.

By Ethan Banks
Ethan Banks On productivity.

You probably know Ethan Banks because he writes & podcasts about IT. For example, he co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

This site is Ethan on productivity--not tech so much.

Find out more on his about page.