The Critical Points: Why I now avoid ride-hailing services whenever I can
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Each week in his column “The Critical Points,” TPG Loyalty and Engagement Editor Richard Kerr presents his opinion on a loyalty program, card product or recent news that he believes is overlooked, unsung or the result of groupthink taking mass opinion in a direction with which he doesn’t agree. His goal is not necessarily to convince you to agree with his position but rather to induce critical thought for each of the topics and positions he covers.
When ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft debuted, they were revolutionary in transforming how millions completed ground travel. These and other (smaller) providers broke a monopoly of taxi companies being the only choice for short- to medium-length transport needs that weren't otherwise served by public transportation. Up-front pricing and cashless transactions gave customers a distinct advantage over the typical taxi ride, which could be fraught with cash-only payments, scams and little recourse if things went wrong.
I used Uber and Lyft for hundreds of rides over the last few years, but my tolerance for these services — from booking to ride completion — has reached a limit. I now find myself using public transportation, renting a car or taking traditional taxis over ride-hailing companies on almost every trip I take. Here are the aspects of the experience that have led me to look elsewhere.
When Uber launched, I remember that it was distinctly more affordable than taxi rides — in some cases by a wide margin. However, when I look at ride prices now, I rarely see good deals compared to hailing a traditional taxi or — my latest strategy — renting a car. TPG staff routinely travel to our parent company's headquarters in Fort Mill, SC, which is roughly a 30-minute drive from the Charlotte (CLT) airport. Recent prices I've observed for the one-way trip are between $30-$45, depending on traffic — which can be bad at certain times of the day.
That means for a three-day visit to Charlotte, you are looking at a minimum of $60 (likely more) for just the round-trip service from the airport to the hotel. Then you add in other car needs for getting to dinner, from the hotel to the office and back, and any other places you need to go. The costs can quickly mount. On the other hand, I can rent a car from CLT for ~$30 all-in per day (or cheaper), saving the company money and giving me autonomy to travel and go where I need, when I need to. I also get a large vehicle using my National or Hertz status and tow 3-5 other employees around with me, truly making ride-hailing services in this scenario a bad deal.
Costs are no longer cheap for Uber or Lyft, and when you add in things like surge pricing, it quickly becomes unaffordable.
Look no further than the new situation at LAX to see how ride-hailing services are being treated by airport authorities. Whether it's a strong taxi lobby or the inability of an airport's infrastructure to accommodate increased traffic, the pick-up situation at dozens of airports around the country make for a truly miserable experience when trying to get a ride after landing.
When I land, I am looking for maximum efficiency to get out of the airport and to my hotel or meeting place. I don't have time to hunt for pick-up areas that require a 15-minute walk (Atlanta) or a shuttle (Los Angeles) to reach. You then have the mass chaos areas like I experienced this week in Las Vegas, where no one seemed to know what was going on or what to do. The posted rules for a driver to text you a stall number before walking to the car were clearly not being followed.
At airports, ride-hailing services are now treated like second-class citizens. I believe an airport should do whatever it can to make the passenger experience a pleasant one and memorable for all the right reasons, but time and time again, we see them take the opposite path, making the pick-up experience as miserable and as inefficient as possible.
That being said, I recently had one very efficient airport experience, one that brought hope for the future. At Chicago-Midway (MDW), if you want a Lyft, you join a single file line, put your destination in the app and receive a code. You then just give your code to the next Lyft driver that arrives, and they take you to your destination. No waiting games, no looking for your specific car and no driver cancellations.
You know another name for this scenario that works very well? A taxi rank.
I have found the driver arrival estimations in both the Lyft and Uber apps so inaccurate that I call a ride before ever departing my hotel room, and I anticipate double of whatever the app suggests. When you are in big cities and call for a ride, wait times can skyrocket beyond what the app says if your driver needs to go around the block or navigate traffic and one-way streets to find you. This often leads me on a hunt to walk towards my driver only to have them drive past me and on to another street — which requires us to go around the block to go in the intended direction.
It makes it very difficult to plan a departure, and again, it drives down efficiency — one of the main tenets of these services. There's nothing more frustrating than staring at the app when it says your driver is five minutes away, waiting five minutes, then seeing that the driver has not yet moved in your direction.
While the games drivers can play come in a wide variety — ranging from devious to simple — all of them can make your ride-hailing experience expensive or inefficient. My least favorite is a driver that does not want to pick you up and will just sit in a single place until you cancel — at which point you are hit with a cancellation fee. This wastes an incredible amount of time, and then you start all over trying to find another driver. Drivers can also go in circuitous routes or hit you with bogus cleaning fees.
And I'm not the first TPG staffer to be fed up with this too, as Brian Kelly had enough last year after falling victim to these cancellation scams.
Now, I know there are thousands of hard-working drivers out there who are hustling every day to make a pay check, and they do it in a friendly and professional manner. It's a shame a select few spoil it for everyone.
Each time I've contacted Uber or Lyft with an issue, I rarely receive a satisfactory resolution. Instead, I get a generic email with something along the lines of "customer feedback is important" and "the issue will be addressed". Rarely do I get any credit back, and often I don't have time to continue fighting for whatever has occurred.
Lately, this is the same case for me over at UberEATS. I've started using my monthly Uber credits from The Platinum Card® from American Express with UberEATS, simply because I no longer want to ride with Uber. Often I get a wrong order, or the delivery time is an hour longer than stated. There's little recourse and no improvement. This may be outside of Uber's control and the restaurant's fault, but that's something that Uber should take up with the vendor and not place the onus on the customer.
My experience riding a train, taking a bus, calling a taxi or renting a car is now vastly superior to using a ride-hailing service. In Chicago, I fly to Midway (MDW) and take a 29-minute subway into the city. In New York, I fly to Newark (EWR) and ride the train to Penn Station, where I can take the subway anywhere in the city for $2.75 and no traffic. In Charlotte (and pretty much anywhere else I go), I rent a car. I save money, avoid the pick-up hassle and can go the second I want to go compared to using ride-hailing apps around the destination.
Simply put, I've found these services are now too much of a headache, too expensive and too inefficient for them to make sense for the majority of my travels.