We told you a few weeks back that Uber's taxicab alternative was coming to Philly, and today it's officially here—so get psyched, people! For those who aren't familiar, Uber allows you to get fancy-pants Town Car service for more than you'd pay for a taxi but less than you'd pay for fancy-pants Town Car service. It's already in Boston, Chicago, New York, DC, LA, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto and Paris. We have the nuts and bolts of how it works, but first: the media launch at 1682 yesterday.
Minglers included a business writer from The Philadelphia Tribune, a New Jersey-based writer from TechCrunch, the editor of About.com's Philadelphia site, a rep from the Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, and many snazzy people from Uber HQ. Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick was there to chat with said minglers, so he plopped down next to a group of four media types and said, "Tell me something about Philadelphia I don't know." It was like we were all on Hardball with Chris Matthews, who—coincidence?—is from Philadelphia himself.
A Fishtown techie told Kalanick that Philly's neighborhoods are very segregated—which perhaps he did not know. But after that little dribble, Kalanick was bombarded with questions—one of which was why Philly?
"Philly's been on my short list for a while now," he said—a fact he finds it hard to explain to native Philadelphians. He'll rattle off the list of stats—central Philadelphia has a higher population than Manhattan; Philly is twice the size of San Francisco, and more dense—yet Philadelphians still act as though he's casting his Uber pearls before swine. He says he's met countless people here who say, "Man, I hate it here, why are you coming to Philly?" or "Philly is so lame—you're really bringing Uber here?" The self-hatred, he says, "takes some getting used to," especially as it's bolstered by a dollop of brutality—a sort of "I hate it here, but if you say you hate it here, I'll knock your teeth out" frame of mind.
One of Kalanick's friends is a Philly guy who tried to be helpful when Kalanick asked, "What do Philadelphians want?" "Respect," his friend answered. But when Uber tries to give it to us—what's more respectful than a chauffered Town Car?, Kalanick points out—we don't feel we're worthy.
Now, as to how it works. Let's say you want to go from Rittenhouse Square to Washington Square to take in the full breadth of William Penn's greene country towne. You open the Uber app on your smartphone or tablet and it tells you how far away the closest driver is. Order the car and you'll get the ETA. Browse in Barnes & Noble till you get a text saying the car is there. If you're nervous, you can monitor the car's progress second by second on your device. (You could also take some Valium, but that's your business.)
You get into a swanky car that's staffed by a friendly driver who won't answer his phone in your presence even if the photo that pops up on his screen is his 10-year-old daughter. You arrive at Washington Square, say thank you, and go on your way. Your Uber account is billed through the app, and tip is included, so you never have to dig in your wallet. You don't even need to have a wallet.
We took two test rides today (thanks, Miguel and Bahaa!)—one of which was in a Cadillac vehicle of some sort that felt even more luxurious than a Town Car—and both were excellent. The only drawback is if you're in a hurry, as we were. As it turned out, the nearest driver was 15 minutes away, and we hadn't left ourselves enough buffer time. Because you can't preschedule a ride, Uber functions best as a substitute for calling or hailing a cab.
The genius of Uber is that it's a technology product. The app's the thing—the limo drivers are already here and working; they're now contracted to work with Uber too. All Uber has to do is go into a city with a robust limo scene and create partnerships with drivers, who then do the type of work they would have done anyway. It's brilliant.
Let us know if you Uber anytime soon. We'd love to hear your thoughts!