Using Uber As an Alternative Transportation Service for People with Vision Loss

What is Uber

Empish standing at a street corner, white cane in hand

Nearly a year ago I started trying out a new transportation service that hit my city called Uber. I had been hearing about it all over the place from both sighted and blind friends. I had not tried it yet because I had no smartphone and I also was not sure of its effectiveness. But after purchasing my iPhone and having to wait longer than I wanted at a doctor’s office, I decided to try Uber. It was a funny situation that you can read about in VisionAware’s Laughter Section but it worked and after that I was hooked!

So, for those of you who are reading this and scratching your head. What is Uber and how does it work? Well, let me explain. According to the Uber website in 2008, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp had trouble hailing a cab. So they came up with a simple idea to creat an app that could call up car service via a smartphone. Today, Uber is providing rides to people all over the place. Basically what happens is a person uses their phone to call up a driver for a ride. That driver is a contractor with Uber and is using their personal vehicle to pick the person up. Since the person is using an app on their smartphone no cash is being exchanged; it is all done via a credit or debit card. This is an option that I like the best because I don’t have to worry about carrying cash. Also, I have had problems with cab drivers not wanting to accept credit or debit cards when trying to pay for fares and don’t have that problem when I use Uber.

How Does Uber Work

The app on the phone is a free download and is very easy to install. Additionally, the app is very accessible with smartphone technology. I use Voiceover on my iPhone and have very little problems accessing the app. The one challenge is that Uber does constantly update the app so I have to stay abreast of the new changes but once I swipe around the screen I can quickly get reacquainted again and check out the new features they have installed.

Calling Up Rides and Fare estimates

Once you have downloaded the app you can create your profile which includes your user name, password and credit card information. When you are ready to call up a ride you will have some options depending on the type of car you want to use. Uber X is the most popular and the most affordable. The car size can hold about 1-4 people and in Atlanta the fare starts off about five bucks. I use this option the most and I find it a great alternative to when I want to go up the street for grocery shopping. I call it my five bucks for five minutes. My grocery store is about a mile or so away from my home and it only cost about $5 and takes about five minutes. A trip on my local Paratransit is $4 and can take upwards to 30-minutes or more. So Uber is a much better deal. Then there is Uber XL for a larger car, Uber Black and Uber SUV for luxury cars. These other options, of course, are much more expensive too.

When calling up your trip you can type in the location of where you are and your destination or you can use the GPS in your phone to do it. You can also creat two locations in your profile that you travel to frequently so that you don’t have to type them in all the time. For me I have my home and work address stored and then I just tap on them when I want to go to either one. It saves a lot of time and energy. Before your car arrive Uber will give you a fair estimate right there on the screen so you know up front if you want to pay the fare. This is an estimate because Uber can’t totally factor in traffic, congestion, accidents, bad weather or drivers who get turned around or lost. These factors can make the fare more. But I have noticed that the estimate does stay relatively close to what I actually pay in the end. One thing that is great about Uber is that if you don’t agree with your final fare amount you can dispute it. You will get an email receipt that will give the breakdown of your fare. By replying to that email and explaining why you don’t agree an Uber representative can review the fare and look in to it. Additionally, if there are problems with your driver that same email can be used to address those issues as well. If you don’t want to use email you can do all of this via your app too.

Connecting with Your Driver

Once you have agreed to the fare the next screen on your app will show the name and picture of the driver, license plate number and make and model of the car. It will also give you an estimate of time that your driver will arrive to pick you up. If you want to contact the driver just tap on the driver’s name and you can either call or text. I like this feature because I can contact the driver and give special instructions, also let them know that I am blind and that I might need assistance to the car. I usually let the Uber driver know that so they can get out of the vehicle and come over and assist me and that way we don’t miss each other.

After you connect with your driver and get into the vehicle, it is a good idea to confirm the address of your destination. Sometimes information can get lost in the shuffle or drivers can get distracted or might not be familiar. So, just double-check. Your phone will indicate that you are in the car and then will give you an estimate of the time you will arrive to your destination. Once you arrive your phone will pull up another screen with the final fare and a rating for the driver. You can rate the driver from 1-5 and submit comments as well. Please note that if you want to tip the driver you have to do that via the Uber website. When you create your profile there is a place on the website to select the tip rate that you want.

Last Key Things to Remember

Now a couple of key things to keep in mind. Uber does what they call surge pricing. This typically happens during peak times like rush hour or if the weather is really bad. The fare during this time can be one or two times the regular rate. Uber will tell you this in advance and will offer you the option to get a text message notice when the surge pricing goes down if you like. When I see the notice for surge pricing I usually will look at the fare and will compare Uber X with Uber XL to see how much of a difference it will be if I really got to get going. Or I will just wait until the surge pricing goes down. Or I will use their competitor, Lyft instead.

When it comes to dog guides, Uber had gotten some heat in the past. Many people with guide dogs and service animals were having difficulty with drivers not allowing them to bring their animals on a trip. There was little recourse or information on the Uber site that a person could do if this happen to them. But today if you go to the Uber website and look under their Help section you will find updated information on service animals. Drivers are not allowed to deny you a trip and if they do you can report them to Uber.

One last key thing to remember is Uber offers corporate or business accounts. I have one of these as well. From time to time I have to travel for my work and instead of using cabs or hiring a driver my manager and I set up an Uber business account. When I get ready to call up a car I just have to be sure that I change the account option from personal to my company on the screen of my iPhone so that the charge goes to the correct account. When I do that an additional screen pops up to fill out for the trip; but I skip it because it takes away from calling up the car. I just provide the documentation of the trip later on. After I have travel to the work function Uber not only sends me a receipt but my manager too. Then we send that to the accounting department for record keeping.

Uber as Alternative Transportation

Now that I have shared with you how Uber works hopefully you have learned a little more about how it can be a viable alternative to other modes of transportation that you currently used. If you are still not convinced, check out my next blog post on Five Top Ways I Use Uber.

Other Resources

Using Megabus

Finding Rides When You Can’t Drive

Transportation Alternatives