A few months ago, I read about a new app called Uber, which worked a bit like a taxi service, except you order an Uber car online and can track its progress to you on your smartphone. Pretty cool, I thought at the time,but something like that would never come to Abu Dhabi because people here are too tied to their cars and the status (real or imagined, mostly the latter) that they think cars give them.
Well think again: Uber is here in the Dhabs, people, and it’s pretty cool. I met with the Uber people a few weeks ago and they explained how Uber works: you sign up for an account using your credit card and then that card is charged for your fare. You can change the method of payment on the spot (decide to pay cash, for instance; or split the ride between two credit cards if you’re sharing with another Uber-ite); you can track the arrival of your driver (unlike when you call to order a cab, and the dispatcher says “five minutes ma’am” but then it might be twenty or thirty minutes), and your receipt shows up on your phone and in your email. There are no other fees involved and the app is free.
Dazzled by the idea of a clean swift car that would be an alternative to a taxi, or to driving myself and wrestling with traffic, crazy Dhabi drivers, and parking, I decided to Uber one night when I had to pick Liam up at a friend’s on one side of town and get him to soccer practice on the other side of town.
I clicked my Uber app, tapped my location pin, and got a little flag telling me the driver’s name, his phone number, and when he’d be arriving.
Except that my housing development is new enough that it doesn’t always show up on a GPS, so the driver didn’t arrive for almost 25 minutes. And then the GPS couldn’t find where we were going, and so we were very late picking up Liam, who had hurt his foot and decided against soccer practice (but that wasn’t Uber’s fault). During this whole ordeal, the driver was unfailingly polite and apologetic, but it was one of those moments where I found myself wishing devoutly for Manhattan’s organized street grid rather than Abu Dhabi’s hieroglyphic sprawl.
I figured there was no way I could write about Uber in good faith, not with such a mess of an experience, but when I explained the problem to Uber’s people, they apologized and asked me to try again, and gave me additional credit for my next ride: customer service par excellence.
So the other night, when Husband and I had to go to a reception where adult beverages would be served, we tried Uber again. Drinking and driving in Abu Dhabi carry incredibly stiff penalties–like jail or deportation–so if you think you’re going to have even a sip or two of wine, taxis are in order. And if you’re going to be somewhere away from downtown late at night, good luck finding a cab (or requesting one and having to wait for forty minutes).
This time, uber worked like a charm: the driver arrived faster than the app could track him and he knew exactly where we were going. It was great. Yes, it was more expensive than a cab, but an incredibly smooth experience and I liked knowing that if there were a problem, I would be able to tap into customer service right away. With an Abu Dhabi taxi, if you’ve got a problem, your best solution is just to get out of the car.
Uber believes in their service and they’d like to introduce themselves to Abu Dhabi, so they’ve offered this promotional code to readers: type in ubermamma and get your first Uber ride for free (up to 80dh).
All of us have those GPS problems now and again — it’s practically a rite (ride?) of passage — but I think that Uber’s service is going to be a great addition to Abu Dhabi life. It’s like having your own chauffeur service, but without actually having to, you know, pay for a chauffeur.
Uber offered me a free ride in exchange for this post, and then another free ride after the fiasco of the first ride, but the opinions here are my own