Friday was one of my more frustrating days to be an Uber passenger. Some of the usual complaints not withstanding, I had a bizarre day with Uber and one that gives me pause when considering the future direction of the company, at least here in the Dallas/Fort Worth market.
It started innocently enough – I requested my normal UberX ride to work. I was surprised to be matched up with a Dodge Ram 1500 truck.
I’ve never encountered a pickup truck with Uber before and I was not happy to have to climb (literally CLIMB) to get into the backseat in my skirt and heels. It was not a comfortable experience and as I rode, I pondered how I’d feel about receiving a truck with an open bed in lieu of a standard vehicle if I were airport bound with luggage, especially given the rainy/snowy weather we’ve had lately. (Sure, if I was alone, the luggage could ride in the seat with me… but what if I was with others?!)
After my ride, I emailed Uber to ask why pickup trucks were a part of the normal Uber family and not included in their own category. I was given this response:
Sorry for the confusion! You can always see the make and model of the vehicle once the request is accepted.
For future reference, you can drag the slider on the bottom of your app screen to select your car preference before you request a ride and request an uberXL or uberSELECT model.
Hmmm. So were they telling me that I should upgrade to a more expensive car to avoid trucks? Or that I should cancel if I didn’t like I got the vehicle I was assigned?
My afternoon ride didn’t fare much better. It was busy and there weren’t many cars nearby so when I finally saw some on the map, I requested an UberX and was matched with a Toyota Prius.
Fair enough. But my driver sent me a text from a minute away and told me he’d actually be in a Volvo SUV. It turns out he was a car dealer and the other car was being used for something else. So I got a 2004 XC90 instead of the newer Prius. Switching out cars though is a clear violation of Uber’s service agreement with drivers – they can easily add a car to a driver profile if it meets the standards so he was clearly trying to fly under the radar. Still, I agreed to it so I didn’t complain… but I silently wondered how often this actually happens?
My third Friday ride was to head out to dinner with a friend of mine (another Uber driver). We requested and were paired with a Toyota Camry. It was dark when he arrived but I commented to my friend as we approached the vehicle that something appeared to be off with the paint job which appeared to be two different colors – black & gray. We rode the short six minute ride and as we exited, understood why the paint looked odd. We were riding in a decommissioned taxi! The two-tone paint was the first sign but it also still bore some of the trade dress from Liberty Cab.
After dinner and some discussion about the bizarre day of car requests, we decided to take Uber’s advice and upgrade our experience to UberSelect.
UberSelect is relatively new to the DFW market and is designed to create a subclass of cars that are nicer than UberX but below black car rates. To qualify, a vehicle has to be on a specified list, have leather interior, and meet other requirements including age. Some drivers have reported even having to undergo a secondary inspection to qualify for UberSelect.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have already had my own issues with UberSelect. I was thoroughly disappointed when the vehicle list was released to find that Volvo is nowhere on it. (View the current list here.)
I have corresponded with several Uber employees who have all given me the same cut and paste response to how “selective” the new service is and how they can make NO exceptions to the approved vehicle list lest they reduce the luxury experience passengers have shown a willingness to pay extra for.
After the day’s events, I decided I was exactly that passenger so I requested an UberSelect.
I was promptly matched with a Ford F150 pickup truck.
My friend tried the same and was matched with the same truck.
I tried again… this time another Dodge 1500 truck. I looked at my phone to be sure I was choosing UberSelect. I was.
I paused and looked for my link to the vehicle list – these cars vehicles were not on it. Two more attempts and two more prompt cancels from us.
We went back to UberX… where we were paired with a driver who broke three of my rules for drivers and still never arrived.
We decided to look at Lyft. No drivers available. (Maybe they are ALL waiting to be approved?!)
At this point, a taxi was looking like a great option.
We tried one last request – back to UberSelect – and finally matched with a GMC Acadia – on the list!
I got home and discovered I’d been charged a $20 cancellation fee from the Dodge Ram 1500. I used this as an opportunity to correspond with Uber about the issue of vehicles not being approved and to question once again why my Volvo was not eligible.
Vehicle eligibility for uberSELECT was determined based on rider feedback. We learned that they have a preference for and would be willing to pay a premium over uberX rates for newer, luxury vehicles. We realize the accepted vehicle list is limited, but these strict vehicle requirements on uberSELECT are necessary to create a more upscale user experience.
Nice canned reply (again) but it doesn’t answer the question as to why vehicles that are not on the approved list are being allowed to drive for UberSelect. I have since spoken with a half dozen drivers who also drive vehicles that are not in the approved list but were added to UberSelect anyway.
So how “select” is UberSelect? Not very, it seems.