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TPG Contributor Steven Ganeles shares a cautionary tale about what happened to him on a recent trip to China, and why he thinks you should consider using Uber or Lyft as an alternative to local taxis abroad.
Public transportation is usually a great way to get around when traveling internationally — it’s cheap, easy to use and tends to run frequently and reliably. Its only real flaw is that there’s usually a point where the subway stops running, as not all cities have 24/7 service, so it’s a good idea to do your homework and find out the closing times when traveling abroad.
On a recent trip to Shanghai, both public transit options from Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) to the city were closing down as I cleared customs. In order to save some money, I took the Shanghai Maglev Train from the airport as far as it would take me and planned to grab a cab from the Longyang Road Station the rest of the way to my hotel.
I followed all the conventional street smart rules for hiring a taxi in a foreign country — only go to a taxi stand, never get in the car with someone heckling to give you a ride, carry cash and always make the driver turn on the meter — but somehow I still managed to get into a cab with a rigged meter and ended up getting ripped off. My 17-minute trip from Longyang Road Station to the Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel cost me 310 Yuan (~$46), while according to TaxiFarefinder.com, the trip should have cost at most 45 Yuan (~$7).
The experience left me angry and embarrassed. I knew I’d be heading back to the airport in just a few days to fly to Taipei and that my flight would once again be during the off-hours when the train wouldn’t be operating. At this point, I opened up my Lyft and Uber apps and realized I could use them to get around town without worrying about getting scammed by another taxi driver.
Using Lyft and Uber Abroad
Lyft currently operates in a ton of US cities as well as nine cities outside of the US, including Bali, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Manila, Phuket, Bangkok, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Uber has a much larger international presence, operating in a total of 76 countries in 473 cities around the world.
In other countries, Uber has different ride options compared to those offered in the US, with some being cheaper than others. When I checked in Shanghai, I was given five options: UberX, UberXL, Uber Sedan, Shared Ride and People’s Uber +, which was the most interesting — and most affordable — option, designed around the idea of Uber not making any profit on rides, but just covering the costs drivers spend on gas and tolls. The company said it launched People’s Uber in China because “Chinese consumers are known to be early adopters of technology, and municipal governments have acted quickly to support forward thinking initiatives that improve the city’s quality of life.”
Since Lyft isn’t yet available in Shanghai, I opted for Uber. As always, the app was easy to use, the driver arrived within 10 minutes and my 45-minute ride from the hotel to the airport only ended up costing me 263 Yuan (~$39). Had I taken the cheapest option, People’s Uber +, the ride would have cost around 140 Yuan (~$21).
A Final Tip
Uber also allows you to earn 2x Membership Rewards points when you pay with an eligible American Express credit card, like the Platinum Card from American Express — you can even redeem Membership Reward points for free rides. If Uber or Lyft are available in a city where you’re traveling, both options can be an efficient and economical way to get around.
Have you ever had a problem with taxis abroad? Tell us about it, below.
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