If you regularly use taxis, then October was an exciting month. On 8 October, Uber gave all users two free rides on UberTaxis or UberX. Unfortunately, the promotion was so popular that I was unable to book an UberTaxi or Uber X car on that day, but it succeeded in bringing the service to my attention. So with $20 credit in my Uber account, I decided to give the service a try for the month of October. Here’s what I learnt.
What’s an Uber?
Uber is an American company that provides taxi, car and limousine services in Singapore. It was founded in 2009 and has been operating in Singapore since January 2013. To use the service, you can download the app for your Android or iOS device and fill in your details. You can also sign-up here. If you use my promo code p98zj you will get $10 off your first ride, and I get $10 credited to my account too.
It should be noted that payment is done entirely by credit card, so commuters who do not want to, or are unable to make credit card payments cannot use Uber.
Unlike regular taxis, which charge a ridiculous 10% surcharge, Uber does not have any surcharge for credit card use, so you won’t have to carry extra cash for your taxi rides. To make things even better, if you have a credit card that gives you rebates for online shopping, you will get the rebates too. I used the SAFRA credit card, which gives me an additional 3% rebates for online shopping.
Taxi got license or not? Same price?
Let’s get this out of the way: to become an Uber driver, you have to be a licensed taxi driver, or a driver with a commercially insured vehicle. Drivers have to go down to the Uber office to register for the programme, where they will fill in their details and receive a locked-down iPhone that can only be used with the Uber app. This process ensures some quality control for the customer. When you hail a ride via the Uber app, you get to see your driver’s name, photo, car make, license plate number and rating (out of five stars).
Throughout the six rides I took, I was satisfied that the drivers were the real deal, and wasn’t worried that they were ‘bo license one’.
There is absolutely no extra charges for using Uber to book a taxi. You pay exactly the same as the metered fare. The only thing to note is that because you are performing a booking, regular call-in booking fees apply.
The One-Two Punch
There are two crucial differences that makes Uber different, and objectively better than competitors Grab Taxi and Easy Taxi – variety and price.
One App – Three Different Classes of Transport
In addition to regular taxis, Uber gets you access to Uber X and Uber Executive cars. Uber Executive use high-class, ‘limousine’ cars like Mercedes-Benz E-class, Toyota Alphard and the BMW 5-series. Perfect for important functions or impressing a hot date.
UberX uses private car services (like a scaled-down limousine service) with car makes that include Hyunda Sonata, Toyota Wish and Nissan Sunny.
Due to pricing, I imagine that most consumers will use UberX and UberTaxis. The real question is which one is cheaper?
Unbeatable Pricing and Promotions
I am 30 years old this year, and until I started using Uber, I have never had a discounted or free taxi ride (save for the taxi driver who gives an ad-hoc discount for getting lost).
The Google-backed Uber is very aggressive in gaining a foothold in Singapore’s crowded taxi app scene, and they are working insanely hard to get your money. In addition to giving you $10 off your first ride, they are also providing 25% discount on your UberTaxi rides with no surcharges on credit card payments; penultimate proof that competition is good for consumers.
If only the other taxi operators would focus more on innovating and providing competitive services instead of lobbying the government to intervene on their behalf.
UberX – Cheaper Than Taxis?
During one of my UberTaxi journeys, the driver said something interesting. He told me that some customers reported that UberX is actually cheaper than taxis. I knew that to be true in the US, but I was excited to hear that the prospect could also be true in Singapore. But before I show you my anecdotal evidence, here’s how the rates compare according to Uber’s website.
(Min Fare: $8.00, Cancellation Fee $6.00)
$3.50 (base fare) +$0.24 (per minute) + ($0.40 per kilometer)
Peak (Monday – Friday: 5pm-10am, Saturday/Sunday: All day)
$3.50 (base fare) +$0.30(per minute) + ($0.50 per kilometer)
$3.00-3.90 (base fare) +$0.29 (per minute*) + ($0.55 per kilometer for journeys from 1km-10km* OR $0.62 per kilometer for journeys above 10km*)
* Except for SMRT Chrysler, Comfort/CityCab Mercedes Benz, Trans-Cab Mercedes Benz, Premier Mercedes Benz and other premium taxis.
At a quick glance, taxis will be more expensive most of the time. And this excludes the 25% peak hour surcharge, the 50% midnight surcharge or the 10% surcharge if you use a credit card!
It makes you wonder how we’ve allowed taxi prices to climb to a point where private car services are actually cheaper than taking a cab. Maddness.
But enough of the academic comparisons. How did UberX and Uber Taxi work for me in the real world?
Using Uber for 1 Month
I used Uber for the month of October to go from my office in Ang Mo Kio to my home at Hougang Street 21. I called for an UberTaxi or UberX around 5.30pm-6.10pm. In total I took 6 UberTaxi rides and 1 UberX ride. Here are the results:
UberTaxi (average cost after 6 trips):
$15.28 (Before October 25% discount)
$11.46 (After October 25% discount)
UberX (based on 1 trip)
Because payment is done entirely through the app, no physical money changes hands at the end of the journey. Taxi drivers input the exact meter fare into the app and end the ride. For UberX, the phone’s GPS calculates the fare. At first, it felt a bit disconcerting to leave a taxi or private car service without reaching for my wallet, but after some time, the cash-less experience won me over.
After all, hasn’t the government been trying to create a cashless society for decades? Uber’s payment system is a masterclass in cashless transactions – it feels fast, convenient and secure. The government should take note.
From the data above, it is abundantly clear that taxis are currently cheaper thanks to the 25% discount. The moment the discount ends, I’m saying goodbye to taxis and taking UberX cars exclusively.
How are drivers affected?
Before you start worrying about drivers getting the short end of the stick, it should be noted that taxi drivers get the full fare, plus an additional $5 per trip from Uber. Uber absorbs the discount, so the driver’s don’t lose out. The same also applied to the two-free-ride-day. Some of the drivers I spoke to reported making as much in that one day as they typically make in a whole week.
I also learnt that UberX initially had a similar promotion, but after it ended, UberX drivers now have to give Uber a 20% of the fare. The driver I spoke to said that he is more than happy to do so because Uber allows him to accept private bookings that ordinarily wouldn’t come his way, and he can always turn off the iPhone if he doesn’t want to accept Uber bookings.
The sticking point for taxi drivers seems to be the turnover time needed for credit card payments. One of the taxi drivers I spoke to said that some of his colleagues are so hard up for money, that they simply cannot wait one week for the money to be deposited into their accounts. He said that those who have a penchant for gambling, womanizing and drinking need the money on a day-to-day basis and simply cannot afford to use the service, despite the perks and the bonus $5 per trip.
During my one month trial of Uber, I walked away impressed and excited, which is a strange realization to reconcile because who gets excited about taxi apps? Honestly?
But Uber has given me enough to be excited about – cheaper fares, cashless & surcharge-less credit card payments that are eligible for online shopping rebates, and access to both affordable and high-end private car services.
The only caveat is that Uber is not as pervasive in taxis as ComfortDelgro’s ubiquitous phone/SMS booking app, which I fell back on twice when Uber was unable to find an available taxi. Hopefully, as the service matures, it will become commonplace in all taxis and private car services.
Amongst all the apps and services I’ve tried over the last year, Uber has made the biggest, most positive impact on my life than anything else. Personally, I think everyone should sign-up for the service .
But should you ever need to use the service, just cross your fingers and hope that a nearby driver has signed-up for Uber.
Interested in UberX instead? Read my updated companion piece on UberX here!