A Review of Uber, the Growing Alternative to Traditional Taxi Service

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From time to time, we at the business desk are pleased to bring you articles
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Today we have a great little article for you;
A Review of Uber, the Growing Alternative to Traditional Taxi Service

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Contributed by Dan Thompson

A Review of Uber, the Growing Alternative to Traditional Taxi Service

Found in Access World Magazine published by American Foundatiion for the

By John Rempel

For many people with visual impairments, finding an accessible, reliable,
and affordable means of transportation is of paramount concern, and is very
often integral to pursuing social and employment opportunities. Ridesharing
companies such as Uber are becoming an additional mode of transportation in
many American cities, and in most cases, competing directly with the taxi
cab industry.

*1. What Is Uber?

Uber was launched in San Francisco back in 2009. It is currently available
in 47 cities in the United States alone, and has expanded to 35 countries
worldwide. The company relies on a mobile app to connect passengers with
drivers of vehicles for hire. The term “ridesharing” is frequently used to
describe services such as Uber, but this term may be a little misleading.
The basic model of paying a company to transfer you from point A to point B
still applies. However, unlike a taxicab, Uber drivers use their personal
vehicles to drive passengers. Rather than communicating with a dispatch to
arrange for pickup, passengers request pick-ups directly through the app.
UberX is the most popular service that Uber provides, and is also the most
affordable, since the vehicles used for this service are not considered
luxury vehicles. Depending on the city, Uber may also provide other types of
vehicles and rates to choose from, including “Black Car” and “SUV.” The
“Black Car” option represents a high-end sedan, while the “SUV” option
provides a larger vehicle with seat capacity for up to six people. There are
other companies that provide a similar service to Uber, including

Found at this link:


and Sidecar found here:


*2. Pricing and Availability

Uber rates can vary from city to city. Raits
can be found here:


Typically, the cost of using UberX is less than that of a standard taxicab.
During peak times, when there are more requests for rides being made than
there are vehicles available, Uber uses what it refers to as “surge
pricing,” which means passengers are charged a higher rate for their rides.
The higher rate is displayed within the app before the ride is requested,
which gives a passenger the option to complete or cancel the request for a
ride at that point. In the most extreme cases, surge pricing can increase
the standard Uber fare by multiple times the standard rate. Fortunately,
extremely high rates due to surge pricing are rare. Uber experienced
considerable backlash when rates went as high as eight times the standard
rate on New Year’s Eve in New York City. Fortunately, New Year’s Eve in New
York City only comes around once a year, and when surge pricing is in
effect, it typically does not exceed more than two to three times the
standard fare. In March of 2014, presumably due to the backlash that Uber
received because of its surge pricing practice, the company introduced
“Surge Drop” notifications, which notify customers via text message when
surge prices drop in their area. UberX rides have recently become subject to
a $1.00 “Safe Rides Fee” as a means to offset rising insurance costs.

*3. Uber App Setup and Accessibility

The Uber app is available as a free download for both the iOS and Android
market. For this review the app was tested using the following devices and

* iPhone 5 running iOS 7.1.1
* Nexus 4 running Android 4.4.2

Uber is to be commended for making the Uber app accessible with VoiceOver,
the native screen reader for iOS. All of the buttons and controls within the
app have been effectively labeled. Unfortunately, this is not the case with
Android operating system when using its native screen reading program,
TalkBack. Several buttons and edit boxes within the Uber Android app are
unlabeled. Therefore, the initial setup, and functionality of the app with
TalkBack after setup, is inaccessible.

The app’s user interface for both iOS and Android platforms provides a high
contrast color scheme combination of white, light gray, and black, which
makes the app easier to use for people who benefit from increased contrast
levels. The native screen magnification features of iOS, and Android Version
4.2 or higher, work seamlessly with the app by allowing you to increase the
size of the viewable area. However, there are no additional options within
the app itself to increase any of the text size. If you have low vision, and
you are using an Android device that is running Version 4.1 or later, there
are unfortunately no accessibility options to increase the viewable area or
font size of the app.

In order to register an account, Uber requires that you have a mobile phone
number. The registration process can either be
done online,


or within the app itself. During the registration process, the app is linked
to a credit card, PayPal account, or Google Wallet. Your account is
automatically charged at the end of each ride. This automated electronic
transaction completely eliminates the need to exchange cash with or submit a
credit card to the driver. Tipping the driver is also automated. By default,
the Uber account is set up to automatically tip the driver 20%. You are
given the option to change the tip amount by accessing your account online.
Changing the tip amount is a feature that is currently only available via a
Web browser, and not within the app itself.

A detailed statement is sent to your e-mail address after every trip. It
provides the pick-up and drop-off addresses, the amount you were charged,
and the total length of the trip. It will even provide you with the first
name of your driver.

The app displays a map of your area at startup, with all of the Uber
vehicles’ locations within your vicinity. This map is not accessible via the
iOS and Android screen readers. However, the map itself is much less
important than the estimated pick-up time and the rate that you are being
charged, since you have no control over which one of the displayed vehicles
may respond to your request for a ride. Once again, the estimated time of
arrival and rate is completely accessible using VoiceOver on the iPhone.
Unfortunately this is not the case with the Android app using TalkBack.

By default, the app will auto-populate your current location using GPS on
your phone. If the auto-populated address is incorrect, you can manually
enter the correct address. You are also given the option to enter your
destination and receive an estimated fare quote before you decide to go
through with the request.

*4. Communicating with the Driver via Text or Phone

After a pickup has been requested, the app provides you with the driver’s
name and the type of car he or she is driving. The app does not currently
allow a person with a disability to indicate any additional needs or
assistance that may be required. The app does provide an additional Actions
button, which becomes available after a pick-up request has been made. One
of these actions includes the ability to contact the driver before they
arrive, either by phone or by text message. Since the Uber driver will not
know that you are visually impaired or blind, contacting the driver before
they arrive to indicate precisely where to meet, and to let them know how to
identify you, is extremely useful. For a person with low vision, it may also
be difficult to identify the vehicle when it arrives. Since the vehicles are
privately owned, they will be more difficult to identify than company-owned
taxicabs. The app does not currently indicate the color of the vehicle that
is being used, although it does let you know the type of car being driven.
As the driver arrives at the specified pickup location, a text message is
sent to your phone stating, “your Uber is arriving now.” Receiving this text
message allows you to know exactly when your ride has arrived, and reduces
the need to be on high alert for an extended period of time. It also reduces
the time that you need to wait outside to meet your driver.

The positive impact of the estimated time of arrival, and the line of
communication between the Uber driver and passenger, is significant. Knowing
the driver’s estimated arrival time, and actual arrival via a text message,
will allow you to more effectively manage the time you have remaining before
the driver arrives, thereby allowing you a greater amount of control. I have
found this to be especially true in social settings when I know
approximately how much time I have to wrap things up and say my good-byes,
and to gather my belongings before the Uber driver arrives.

*5. Uber Policy on Guide Dogs and People with Disabilities

Uber has yet to adopt a policy to accommodate the needs of people who use
service animals. In fact their policies make no reference to service
animals. The only reference made to animals is a section in their policies
entitled “Can I Ride With My Pets?” Uber states that they “leave the
decision whether or not to transport pets at the discretion of your driver.”

Uber Policies for their full statement.

That be found here:


Uber is enmeshed in a number of legal wranglings within several states for
not abiding by the same local and state requirements of taxicabs. A growing
number of people are also challenging Uber and other ridesharing companies’
policies regarding people with disabilities. Since the vehicles are
privately owned and operated by independent contractors, Uber and other
ridesharing companies are currently not required to adhere to the Americans
with Disabilities Act, which states that “public transportation authorities
may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of
their services.”

After each trip, both the driver and rider rate each other with a one to
five star rating system. This system can be an effective method to provide
accountability for both the driver and rider, and improve the experience
overall. However, in the absence of any policy in place by Uber regarding
people with disabilities, the potential exists for a rider to potentially
receive a negative rating from a driver simply because of their need for a
service animal, thereby potentially compromising future requests for

*6. The Bottom Line

In a country that continues to maintain its love affair with automobiles,
Uber offers people with visual impairments an alternative to the traditional
taxicabs in several cities within the United States. When surge pricing is
not in effect, the cost of UberX can be very reasonable. The iOS app allows
a person who is blind to easily schedule a pickup with just a few gestures
on their smartphone, and the automated system eliminates the hassle of
having to pay the driver directly with cash or credit card. Uber’s estimated
arrival time is also much more exacting than traditional taxicabs, since GPS
is used to accurately track the distance between you and the driver.

Uber is clearly not for everyone. There are many American cities that do not
offer Uber services at this time. In the cities that Uber is available, the
company’s business model is highly reactive to the supply and demand of the
market, which can sometimes translate into a lack of available Uber drivers
at the time a request is made. On the flip side, it can also mean that if
surge pricing is in effect, the service may not be feasible for many.

If you happen to be a blind traveler with a guide dog, and are refused a
ride from an Uber driver, there appears to be no legal recourse that can be
taken under the ADA at this time. This makes the Uber service unreliable at
best for people using a guide dog, and discriminatory at worst. Although
it’s evident that Uber has invested resources into making their iOS app
accessible for people who are blind and visually impaired, the current
version of the Uber app for Android is virtually unusable for a person who
is accessing it via TalkBack. With the proliferation of Android smartphones
on the market today, it would be in the company’s best interest to make it
more accessible, not only because it happens to be the right thing to do,
but because it would also be a profitable investment.

*7. Product Information

Uber app and website
Cost: Free
Apple App Store
Google Play

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