Trip Review: London, Paris and Points Between
Like a Taxi, But Better
Throughout our trip, we relied on Uber many, many times. If you’re unfamiliar with the service, Uber is an on-demand transport service that utilizes a variety of classes of vehicles that provide a much better experience than a typical taxi.
To hail an Uber vehicle, simply download their app to your smartphone. The app uses your phone’s GPS capabilities to determine your location and can provide an estimate for how many minutes until your ride will arrive. Once you request a ride, you can watch the car move along the map toward you, and the app notifies you of the type of car, its license plate and provides the driver’s profile picture and name so they’ll be easier to spot.
One of the nicest things about Uber is that no money changes hands with the driver during your trip. All charges are calculated based on a small base rate and variables set for time and distance. If your vehicle is moving at less than 11 miles per hour, Uber charges based on time. Otherwise, the distance rate takes over.
Gratuity is included as part of the service, so there’s not even the need to tip your driver. Especially in a foreign country where the amount of local currency you have on hand may be limited, this can be quite the boon. The app also offers the ability to split a fare with other users seamlessly, again without ever having to involve the handling of cash, making the ride simple and elegant.
Uber is available in many major cities now and is being introduced to new cities monthly, with Jacksonville happily among the newest! In some cities, only Uber’s standard black car service is available, swooping you up and taking you where you need to go in a Lincoln Town Car, Chrysler 300 or the like.
One App, Many Options
In larger cities like London and Paris, a variety of options exist. UberX is a more affordable alternative, using Prius-class vehicles for transport. UberTAXI actually drafts on the abundance of traditional taxis in some cities like New York, offering Uber’s convenience with the immediacy of ubiquitous taxis. while UberVAN and UberSUV are just what they sound like, with the ability to carry more passengers and cargo for a higher fee. Some cities, like Paris, offer unique options, such as UberMOTO, a motorcycle pickup service great for one passenger looking to make their way across town in high traffic in a hurry.
The company has also staged a number of limited time events and promotions over the past year, including on-demand ice cream trucks in Washington, DC, on-demand helicopter service from New York to the Hamptons and even on-demand kitten play time (yes, I’m serious) in several cities just last month as part of a campaign to celebrate National Kitten Day and raise money for animal shelters. For $20, a vehicle would arrive with adorable kittens, offering 15 minutes of playtime, cupcakes and t-shirts, with all proceeds going to shelters. In other words, this was the best $20 frivolous expense of all time.
Riding With Uber
Traveling as part of a group of four, there were often times when Uber made great sense for us in London even if the Underground were nearby. Generally speaking, we determined that if we were going less than two Underground stops’ worth of distance away but the journey was still too far to undertake on foot, Uber was a cheaper or comparable option to the amount we’d spend on our four Underground fares.
Cars would consistently be available within 5-10 minutes near the Hyatt Regency – The Churchill, though 15-20 minutes was the case more than once farther away from the center of activity, towards the Tower of London and other landmarks down the Thames from Westminster. Having 3G service consistently made requesting Uber service extremely easy, and the cars would show up within 50 feet of our present location in each case, easy to spot by looking for the provided license plate numbers.
In Paris, we also made great use of Uber, but were somewhat hamstrung as I had no data service once we made our way to France, given the country’s more lackluster prepaid SIM card offerings. That meant requesting cars via Wi-Fi hotspots when possible – such as when leaving from the hotel – and then standing close enough to the hotspot to maintain signal to watch the driver movement toward our location. In one case, we had difficulty spotting the car, and the driver attempted to call my US mobile number while I still had my UK SIM card inserted. This resulted in a few minutes of frustration for both of us but the driver couldn’t have been nicer once we found each other, offering restaurant recommendations and explanations of landmarks in very good English upon request.
Overall, my experience with Uber was so outstanding throughout our journey that I can’t imagine relying on traditional taxi service when in an Uber city. Uber arguably costs more than a cab, but this isn’t always the case. In Paris, for example, it’s typical for cabs to charge an additional €3 for a fourth passenger. These type of restrictions don’t apply to Uber, so if you’re traveling in a group in particular, the pricing can often be similar while the quality and convenience is much higher.
If you haven’t tried Uber yet, here’s a great deal to get you started: Sign up here to receive $30 in free credit after your first ride. Go on and get Ubering!