Uber, dubbed as “Everyone’s Private Driver” is a USA based company, connects riders to drivers via mobile apps, with operations all over the world. From its humble beginnings as a small startup serving San Francisco in 2009, it now serves 53 cities in 20 countries, as of time of writing.
Here’s a quick fact sheet on Uber:-
- Uber is a mobile app service – They don’t hire and operate a fleet of taxi drivers. Much like MyTeksi (a local startup) and EasyTaxi (Brazilian based, Rocket Internet venture)
- Uber cars options for different price points
- UberX – The low cost offering, using everyday cars. More of a ride sharing option, than a taxi service
- UberTAXI – Regular city taxis, minus the hailing off the street and booked through the app
- UberBLACK – Premium service with high-end sedans. Just a step below booking a full limo
- UberSUV – Premium service with an SUV for a bigger party of passengers
- UberLUX – High-end service with fine, luxury cars aka proper limousine service
- High standards of operations – Qualified, licensed and insured drivers, passengers rating, single app used in all cities globally with a good support team
- Clear pricing – Fares are clearly defined for each car options. Fare quotes are also available in the app
- Cashless rides – You don’t need to pay your drivers, everything is deducted and billed to your credit card on file
For more information, check out Uber’s website at https://www.uber.com/
What sets Uber apart from your regular taxi apps is that Uber is just cool! On top of it’s high standards of operations, Uber has been a regular in major tech blogs and industry news. From offering Uber Ice Cream Trucks in 33 cities globally, to free Tesla Model S all-electric sports car ride at SXSW 2013, to Uber helicopter rides in New York City – Uber kept impressing with more outrageously cool and conversation-starting promotions.
Not forgetting the headline-grabbing news in August 2013, when Uber secured a whopping USD$258 million in funding led by Google Ventures! Now, you don’t see that happen to just a regular taxi booking app startup.
I have been watching Uber’s growth over the years and constantly impressed with all the amazing promotional activities that they’ve drummed up every now and then. With their rapid expansions (and the new money they now have), I always wonder if they would ever come to Malaysia.
A little background on KL taxi drivers
Traditionally, there’s usually 2 options when you need a cab – hail one off the street (or taxi stand) or pick up the phone and call one (if there’s no taxi traffic where you are).
However, our lovely KL city taxi drivers have a notorious reputation. Complains ranges from refusal to use the meter fares, selective with destinations, overcharging, rude, scamming and sometimes accused of criminal behaviours.
No wonder, back in late last year, the news was abuzz with stories of how Kuala Lumpur cabbies made the Number 1 spot on London Cabs website’s Top 10 Countries with the worst (taxi) drivers list. A brave journalist from The Star even went undercover for a little investigative reporting and reported her affirmation of this shameful reputation. This is obviously very bad news, and the Tourism Ministry wants to get off this list badly. They announced their plans on how to get off that “Worst Cabbies” list but until today, not much has changed.
You’d think that that would be the time for KL taxi drivers to lay low. Nope!
Shortly after this “news” circulated, the local taxi drivers got involved in another headline story when they staged a protest against the city’s free shuttle bus service, GO-KL.
As with most scandalous news like this, no major resolution has been in place to warrant any major changes in the service levels of our “beloved” KL taxi drivers.
Then came the tech startup boys with taxi apps. Today, we have several choices for different taxi booking apps like MyTeksi and EasyTaxi in Klang Valley that allows you to book via a mobile app (and sometimes SMS) with GPS tracking of your location and the taxi driver’s location as well. Both services are growing rapidly, but not without it’s own nasty competitive drama as well.
Uber, on the other hand, coming in to KL would be an interesting watch. The US based company’s proposition for their taxi booking app comes in at a more premium offering with high end sedans, ala limo service. Since they’re playing in a different space, albeit a smaller space, it would be interesting to see how they plan to hit the KL market.
Uber KL “Soft Launch”
Guess I didn’t have to wait too long, because a few days ago, on 18 October 2013, Uber announced in a blogpost that they’re finally coming to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!!!
Uber started its Asian operations when they launched in Singapore in February this year. As of time of writing, their website listed 9 cities in Asia Pacific – Bangalore, New Delhi, Singapore, Seoul, Sydney, Melbourne, Shanghai, Taipei and now, Kuala Lumpur.
The Uber KL Product Page HERE states that it’s “Launching Soon” with limited cars available today.
In the Uber KL website, as well as on the Uber app I downloaded on my Android phone, there seems to be only UberBLACK service option available. The UberBLACK is the high-end sedan cars, such as Toyota Camry and BMW 7 series. The website also stated the Lincoln Town Car Signature, which is actually a car not available in Malaysia. I assume that this is a generic statement in all cities’ pages.
Fares are surprisingly quite close to existing budget or premier taxis (compared to Sunlight Taxi’s fares here), NOT overly pricey considering it’s a premium service. There are a few uncertainties with the regular taxi surcharges (eg, tolls and parking, midnight surcharges) that are not mentioned in the Uber KL product page.
The interesting thing to note though, is UberBLACK rides to KLIA airport costs a whopping RM 300 flat!!! Versus budget taxis only charging a RM 12 surcharge and MyTeksi offering promotions such as RM 9.99 rides to the airport!
Of course, UberBLACK are premium, high-end sedan cars, so it’s not a fair comparison, of course. But still, with crazy competition, it’s tough not to.
Targeting a more premium market, I’m excited to hear more about Uber’s upcoming operations in KL. Are you?
For more information, follow Uber KL’s Product Page at https://www.uber.com/cities/kuala-lumpur and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UberMY, Twitter at https://twitter.com/Uber_KL, Instagram at http://instagram.com/uber_kl or their blog at http://blog.uber.com/city/asia-pacific/kuala-lumpur/
My UberBLACK ride experience with Uber Singapore
Not too long ago, I was in Singapore for a short trip and decided to give the Uber mobile app and UberBLACK service a try.
When you power on the app for the first time, you’ll be prompted to signup for a new account. I suggest you do this immediately, before you urgently need a ride, because these steps involve getting a confirmation SMS code that you have to verify and setting up your credit card billing information.
As a reminder, Uber is a cashless service, which is why it’s important that you setup your credit card billing information upfront.
Once you’ve signed in and launch the app, the app will start to search for your current location using your phone’s GPS as your pickup location. You can move the pin around to another pickup location, if you wish. The icon at the bottom shows you the type of cars available and its associated fares. In this case, there’s only UberBLACK high-end sedans available in Singapore.
Once your location is locked, or your pickup point is defined, you can tap on to search for the location of your destination. The next page (top right) will show you an estimated fare quote and your credit card on file. If you’re good, click on to “Request Black Car” to send in your booking.
Just like with Uber KL’s UberBLACK service, fares to Changi Airport is set at a SGD$50 flat. Regardless of where you are in Singapore island. *thumbs up* A fair fare (tongue twister) that I can’t complain.
You will be able to see in the real-time map if there are any Uber cars near you. Once a nearby and available driver is located, you will also be notified when one accepts your booking, along with their details, such as a picture of your driver, their car type, license plate, etc.
While I had way too much fun watching the icon of my drivers’ car come closer towards my location, there are also other options you can access at this stage. This includes contacting the driver, spliting the fare with another Uber passenger with you or canceling the request (which incurs cancellation fees).
In my tests, it took less than 1 minute for Uber app to locate a driver, who immediately accepted my request. And less than 8 minutes for the driver to reach me! Not too shabby!
My Uber driver, a Madam Ivy, was a nice, friendly and chatty lady, who is one half of a husband-and-wife limousine business. She serves regular customers mostly and uses Uber for additional, incremental income to her existing business. It was a healthy coincidence that she happened to turn on her Uber app at the same time of my request!
The whole ride was pleasant, Ivy was a veteran in the business – happy to entertain my conversation attempts with her, and contented to leave me alone at moments where I’m buried on my phone.
At the end of the ride, when we reached my destination, she showed me her clicks on her iPhone to complete the Uber “transaction” and informed me that I will be receiving my billing notification shortly. I concurrently noted the end of the ride on my Uber app as well as placed a positive feedback for the Uber service and a 5-star rating to my Uber driver. An efficiently prompt email came to my inbox shortly with the billing information of my completed Uber ride. A couple of days after, I also received an email from Uber thanking me for the business and the positive rating I left on my driver, Ivy!
Overall, I was impressed and happy with the overall Uber service. Having used the MyTeksi app before, I can’t help but to make some minor comparison in terms of app usability. While the Uber app looks much better with more features, the MyTeksi app was a little (teeny bit) more user friendly, in my opinion.
My Uber driver, Ivy, passed me some coupon codes for discounts for first-time Uber rides to share with my friends. Anyone interested? Let me know…
If Uber KL is anything like the high standards and very satisfactory service level as my experience with my UberBLACK ride in Singapore, I think they might do quite well here in KL. While at the current soft launch stage with limited cars, I’m really interested to see how they’d fare once grand, official launch comes round.
As long as there’s a big amount of cars available and they keep within a 5-10 minute (or better) wait time, I can foresee a number of people (including a number of my friends) who will be using the Uber service!
The downside though, is the inability to pre-book your rides ahead of time. This is already available for MyTeksi, for example, which I feel is crucial. Taxi service are so unreliable here – you never know if any taxis are available, whether the driver will want to accept your booking, whether he’ll show up, whether traffic is bad that your driver is late, and the list goes on. The ability to allow pre-booking of rides will ease a lot of these uncertainties. At least, until we get the overall taxi service efficient in the city again!
Except maybe the pricey RM 300 ride to the airport! Eek.
What do you think? Will you give it a go?