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Uber, a great product. Just not for your clients

UPDATE:  Uber has suspended operations in Nevada based on a court ruling.

Recently, I attended Travel Weekly’s Cruise World in Ft. Lauderdale. If you haven’t been to this show, you are missing out and I highly encourage you to make plans to attend the next one, in November 2015. But, that isn’t what this article is about.

My hotel was about 3 miles away from the convention center where Cruise World was held. Although shuttle buses were provided for attendees, there were times they were not convenient, or not running at all. Taxicabs are plentiful in Ft. Lauderdale, but they’re rather expensive. For the 3-mile trek from the hotel to the convention center, the fare was about $15. Sure, I could walk, but some destinations just require a vehicle. Enter Uber.

For the uninitiated, Uber is an app-based ridesharing service. Simply put, a smartphone app allows the user to set a pick-up location, and a drop-off location, and a driver will show up within minutes and take them to that destination for a reasonable cost. The driver utilizes their own private vehicle, eliminating a lot of the overhead of taxi services. The app has built in security features – for example, when a driver responds to a pick-up request, the user receives a notice of the type of vehicle, the license plate of that vehicle, and a picture of the driver. When the driver shows up, it is easy to identify him or her. In the case of the 3-mile route between the hotel and convention center, each Uber ride was just over $8. That is a considerable savings over the taxi rates and a lot more convenient than public transportation. Better yet, the payment processes are handled electronically – no money changes hands between the passenger and the driver.

For the Uber drivers (many are former taxi drivers), it is a solid moneymaking proposition for them. They enjoy higher take-home pay, more flexibility, and they are able to operate their own vehicles which are much more comfortable for the driver. But, Uber has faced stiff opposition in many locales. Often, Uber is cited as being an unlicensed taxi service, with many municipalities ordering the company to cease and desist operations. Since 2012, Uber’s service has been made legal in several cities across the US, though in many others it remains in limbo.

All of the legal challenges aside, as a user, I thoroughly enjoyed my Uber experience. It was a great way to keep transportation costs down, and it made getting a ride very easy. I found my drivers to be interesting people willing to talk about what they do, and happy to share a little of their knowledge of the city. But, I stop short of recommending the service to clients. Uber performs background checks on each driver, and the drivers are required to use a vehicle within a certain age and keep it maintained to a certain level. In addition to their own private insurance, Uber provides an umbrella insurance coverage on all its drivers. Despite all this, the Uber service remains unlicensed by any federal, state, or city authority in most locations. It is purely buyer beware. If something were to go wrong with the service that causes harm to anyone, it is possible the travel agent/agency could be held liable if they recommended it.

For me, Uber is the future of taxi-style ride programs. They utilize technology to reduce costs and meet customer demand for clean rides at a fair price. I will personally use Uber again when I travel; but until their legal woes are behind them, I am not willing to put my agency at risk!

Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS has been a travel professional since 2005 and currently owns Exclusive Events At Sea  and Journeys By Steve with specializations in group cruising, individual ocean & river cruising, and personalized experiences in Europe, especially the British Isles.  He can be reached at steve@journeysbysteve.com.

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