A friend told me a scary story about her visit to Mexico city. She asked her hotel to call a taxi. An Uber driver showed up and pretended to be her car. She got in and 5 minutes later the hotel called her to tell her that her taxi was waiting. She thought maybe it was an honest mistake and asked the driver to pull over or take her back to the hotel. He said he’d just take her to her destination (which he didn’t know). She got scared and jumped out at a stop light.
This story isn’t a criticism of Uber. In fact, if my friend had used Uber as it is intended, ordering a ride on the app, the risk of scam drivers would have been avoided. I’ve used Uber a lot in Mexico city, as have many of my friends. And I’ve never heard a bad story about a real Uber trip.
The benefits of ride hailing apps
Uber, and other similar peer-to-peer taxi services are a great advance for tourists. Travelers hailing taxis on the street face a number of potential problems. How do you communicate your destination if you don’t speak the language? In some countries you also need to negotiate prices. Again in the language you may not speak well. Of course taxi drivers are famous for taking advantage of foreigners. If there’s no meter they just charge more. But even with a meter there’s the risk of being taken the long way. Taxi drivers are also mostly anonymous. Unless you think to take a picture of the license plate or driver permit, there’s no good way to track down a driver. With app-based ride hailing services you always have a record of your drivers.
Sure there are stories about real Uber trips where a driver assaulted a passenger. But those are super rare. And there are similar stories about taxi driver assaults. Your assailant is much more likely to be caught if he/she is driving for an app-based service.
In some countries, hailing random taxis is quite dangerous for tourists. In Bogota taxi robberies are common. But this problem doesn’t exist with Uber because the drivers can be tracked.
The many flavors of Uber
Uber has become something like Kleenex. It’s a brand, but it’s also the most common name for peer-to-peer taxis. Lots of similar companies exist around the world. In the U.S. everyone knows about Lyft. Cabify is all over South America, Taxify is in Europe and Africa. And smaller companies have arising to offer ride services to niche markets. For instance, SafeHer, in Boston, offers ridesharing specifically for women.
In truth, if taxi services weren’t so slow to innovate, most of the benefit of Uber-like services could be offered by taxis. They just need a ride hailing app. In Colombia you can use Easy Taxi to call a cab. It’s generally considered just as safe as Uber.
How to prepare for a safe trip
If you’re planning a trip, one important thing to include is research into ride hailing services. Make sure to download any apps you need and sign up for the services while you have a good internet connection.