So I’m sitting in the back of an Uber the other day. It’s a Nissan Altima, the last-generation model, the one where it looks like the rear tail lights were styled using the rare Photoshop feature More Turn Signal. The driver is yammering away on the phone. And he’s cruising along about three inches from the car in front of him.
It was at this moment I realized I wasn’t really in an Uber anymore. I was in a taxi.
Allow me to explain. Back when Uber came out, it was a bunch of people who thought they’d make a little extra money on the side, so they signed up with their four-door Jeep Wrangler and they drove drunk guys to off-campus frat parties. And we all appreciated it because it was interesting: some random guy, maybe your neighbor, is cruising around with his personal car and giving rides for money. What a world we live in!
But these days, I’ve noticed a tremendous increase in the number of Uber drivers who are actually taxi drivers. They drive like taxi drivers. They talk on their phone like taxi drivers. They make inappropriate comments about women walking down the street like taxi drivers. They might actually be taxi drivers in their normal lives, away from Uber. Of course, they might also be axe murderers. We just don’t know.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: Ha ha! Just kidding! They cannot be axe murderers! We know this because Uber has a very strict background check process, which includes the question: Are you an axe murderer?)
So I’ve started to expect taxi-level service from just about every Uber I get in. And to be honest, this is fine with me. I don’t care to become friends with the driver. I don’t need a cool new car or a conversation partner. I don’t even need the thing to smell like roses. I don’t care about any of that stuff. I’m only going to be spending a few minutes in this car. Just get me from Point A to Point B, and keep the radio at a volume that wouldn’t be considered unusually high for a bowling alley.
So I started thinking about it: if I don’t need to talk to the driver, and if I don’t need a cool new car, and if I don’t need a good smell, or perfect service, or a smooth ride, then why don’t I just take a taxi?
And the answer is: because I can’t hail a taxi with an app.
For those of you who have made it this far in life Uberlessly, allow me to explain what I mean. In my city, it’s very easy to hail a taxi. You just walk outside, stick your hand in the air like you’re waving to passing traffic, and BOOM! You have a taxi. But what happens if I’m trying to get a ride home from a car dealer in the suburbs after I’ve dropped off my car for service?
I’ll tell you what happens: first, you call the taxi company. They ask you for your address. You tell them: 1441 East Ridge Pike. Plymouth Meeting. They ask you again. You tell them again. 1441 East Ridge Pike. Plymouth Meeting. They ask you for your details. You provide them. And then, just as they’re about to get off the phone, the dispatcher says to you: We’ll see you at 2441 Ridge Pike, in West Chester!
Meanwhile, the taxi driver gets the call. He’s on it. He’s going to drive all the way out to the suburbs, 20 miles without a fare, just to get you. Because that’s what he does. He’s a driver. He’s good at his job. He picks people up. He drops people off. He — wait, is that a guy trying to hail me on the street? He looks pretty well-dressed. He probably gives good tips. I’m going to pick him up instead.
So you call back the taxi company, and you ask where your taxi is, and they put you on hold for a while, and then they get back on the phone and say: Sir, we have no record of your call. It is at this moment you decide it’s just easier to wait for your vehicle to be repaired, even if it’s at the collision shop after a tree crushed your trunk like an empty soda can.
And let’s say, by some stroke of luck, you do find a taxi. He drives you along, back to your house, and he tells you the fare: thirty-four dollars and eighty-one cents. Since there isn’t a human being on earth who is currently carrying this exact amount of money, you give the taxi driver your credit card. And then he becomes irate. THIS IS ALL YOU HAVE? CREDIT?! A CREDIT CARD?! THIS IS A CASH ONLY BUSINESS! I BECAME AN AXE MURDERER BECAUSE OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU!
With Uber, none of this happens. When you want a car, you just sign into the little app, and POOF! A car shows up. When it’s time to pay, you don’t need to deal with cash, or change, or even a credit card. You pay through the app. It’s all electronic. No sliding credit card machine that does a trace of your card, which the taxi driver later drops on the floor of a suburban McDonald’s.
In other words: I don’t take Uber because I prefer the quality, or the cleanliness, or the sharing economy, or the BLAH BLAH BLAH FUTURISTIC BUSINESS. I take Uber because I can hail it and pay for my ride entirely with an app. And the moment a taxi service begins offering this feature, I’ll go back to taxis. Because sometimes, I miss the smell.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.