GTT Notes for March, 2017: Uber

Thanks as always to Christine Malec for preparing these awesome notes!

Jason opened the meeting. Tonight we have a representative from Uber to talk with us. Next month’s meeting will be Chelsie talking about Siri tips and tricks. In May or June we’re open for topic suggestions. You can send an email to with any suggestions. We have Adam Blinnick, Director of Public Affairs for Uber Canada, and Brian Crook, an operations manager for Uber accessibility. After they discuss Uber in broad terms, Jason said he will give a demonstration of how to use the ap.


With raised hands, Adam saw that about 3/4 of those present have used Uber. Uber was founded in 2009. It had relatively humble ambitions. Two people had sold their businesses in San Francisco, where it’s hard to get a cab. Initially it was framed as a luxury service, only “black cars.” As the experiment got going, it became clearer that transportation is an issue for many people. Owning a car or taking taxies is expensive, and public transit can be inconvenient. Also, a lot of car-owners are happy to turn their car into a revenue-generating device. Uber is now in over 400 cities worldwide. The flagship product is UberX. The ideal is, giving rides to your neighbours. Uber has been able to increase transportation to parts of cities that were previously inaccessible by transit, or if you didn’t have a car. Calling a taxi was time-consuming and inconvenient, as you had to sit staring out the window. Now, Uber cars often are available within 5 minutes. It also allows you to track the car as it is coming to you. The lower cost of an Uber ride is indisputable; it’s 30-40% cheaper than a conventional taxi, and Uber pool is even cheaper.

The ap is free from the ap store. You download it, create a profile, then connect a payment method to it, and you’re ready to go. It’s a seamless experience to when the driver arrives, and you don’t have to pay when you exit the car; the ride is charged to your payment method. Up-front pricing has now been implemented; the price you see before you request the ride is the price you’ll pay.

Safety is important in the design of the ap, and during the ride. Adam outlined several policies and procedures implemented with safety in mind. Every driver who wants to drive for Uber must complete a criminal background check. Also, Uber has insurance which covers the rider. When you request a ride, you don’t have to wait outside, as the ap lets you track the driver. This increases your safety. When you request the ride, you get the driver’s name, license number, and a description of their car. You also have an opportunity to contact the driver via phone or text, to give more specific information about your pickup location. During the trip, other safety features are in place. You’re always on the map, being tracked by GPS. You can also use “share my ride,” which allows someone, such as a family member, to track where you are, they don’t need to have the Uber ap in order to do this. You don’t need to have your credit card or cash on you to take the ride. After the ride, you have access to a rating system, which allows you to comment on anything about the driver that concerned you. This allows Uber to track patterns in driver behaviour. There’s 24/7 support if you have an urgent concern about your ride, or left a personal item in the car etc. There’s also a record of every trip you take. You get a copy, and Uber keeps a copy, in case later follow-up is necessary.

In Canada, Uber is throughout the GTA, where the average wait time is 5 minutes or less. Most of southwestern Ontario is covered, as well as lots of eastern Ontario. In the west, Uber is operating in the greater Edmonton and Calgary areas.

A member raised the point that making a customer service complaint was quite difficult. It took a long time to find the phone number, and he had to leave a message. Adam replied that the best way to file a complaint is through the ap itself. There’s a layer in the “help” feature after your ride, which is called, “there’s a problem with my fair.” Responses to complaints made through the ap are usually within an hour.

A member asked if there’s a way to get Uber without a smart phone. Jason answered that there’s a service called GoGo Grandparent. You sign up with them, give them all your information, then phone them and have them arrange an Uber for you. They charge you 18 cents a minute for your trip, as their service fee. They have an 800 number for information. The number is (855) 464-6872. Adam added that Uber is working on a function that will allow you to request an Uber via a computer. He couldn’t say when this will be in place, but he also added that they are planning on adding the service Jason described themselves. Someone else can order the Uber for you, then send you trip information.

A member asked if you can request an Uber using voice. Jason answered that you can, but last time he tried, you can’t specify your pick-up location; it simply uses GPS to determine where you are. You can then contact the driver with your specific address.

A member asked about Uber Assist. Brian described that it is an option that insures you a top-quality driver, who has been through a training program for working with people with disabilities. The cost for Uber Assist is the same as an UberX, but you might have to wait a bit longer for a driver.

In response to a member question, Adam said that Uber uses Google Maps for their GPS data. If your address isn’t found by Google maps, you can always contact the driver to give them more specific information about where you are.

A member asked what Uber does to ensure drivers will accept service animals. Brian answered that drivers are informed of the law, but that he knows cases happen where drivers refuse. There’s work going on in the U.S. about this, and Uber Canada will follow. Uber wants to make transportation as accessible as running water, and when people with service animals are refused service, they’re failing.

A member asked if there’s a way to facilitate passengers and drivers finding one another at pick-up. Jason said that at CSUN, he was at a ride-sharing workshop in which it was said that this is being worked on. A member added that it’s very helpful to text or phone the driver from within the ap to tell them that you’re blind, and give them information about how to find you, and ask them to identify themselves to you. This helps a lot.

Ian returned to the subject of service animals, to point out that it’s not only a question of Uber’s policies, but that drivers are breaking the law when they refuse service.

Adam said that, until now, Uber assist drivers weren’t being notified in a way that distinguished assist calls from non-assist calls. Soon, they will be implementing a pop-up to let the driver know it’s an assist call. Assist is for people who want a door-to-door service. It isn’t necessary to request an Uber Assist if you have a service dog; all cars must take them.

Jason then took over to begin a demonstration of using the Uber ap with Voiceover. You can open the ap using Ciri if you choose. When you open the ap, you get a hint telling you that you can use a shortcut to specify your pick-up location. From the upper left, swiping down gets you a “where to” button, or you can swipe right to “schedule a ride.” Scheduling gives you a 20-minute pick-up window. Another button invites you to rate your last trip. The ap will remember the last couple of destinations you’ve been to, and is location-aware. It keeps track of places you commonly go from wherever you currently are. From the initial screen, Jason found a button that said “Home,” where he can double tap, to set as your pick-up location. Relying on GPS to determine your pick-up location is sometimes vague, so be careful about counting on it to know exactly where you are. Within the ap, you can designate specific addresses as things like home, work, etc. This makes it easier to arrange your ride. In some aps, including this one, swiping misses options, so sometimes you have to use your finger to explore the screen. Jason said he’s been seeing this in a few aps, so it might be a voiceover bug. After setting your destination, you then choose your monetary range. You see your options, and each associated cost and arrival times. It remembers the last choice you made, X, Assist, Pool etc. On the “economy” button, voiceover invites you to swipe pages for more options. This is a 3-finger sideways swipe, as though you are turning a page. Uber Select and Uber Black are the higher-priced options where you get a nicer car. Uber XL gets you something like a minivan. Jason used sideways swipes to explore. On the page titled “more,” there’s a taxi option. Brian explained that this gets you a standard cab who works for a traditional cab company, but takes Uber passengers as well. This doesn’t allow you to have a fixed price, because the Uber taxi is metered. Payment is still through the ap, but the calculation method is in real time. On this “more” page, you can also find the Assist option. WOV means wheelchair accessible vehicle. Availability of WAV vehicles is not great, due to the lack of available vehicles. In the downtown core, your wait will likely be less than 10 minutes. Outside downtown, there might be no availability. No city in North America has solved this problem.

Jason showed that, during the request process, you can switch between multiple payment methods if you’ve registered more than one. Once you request the ride, it begins matching you with nearby drivers. A recent change was made. There used to be a contact and a cancel button on the main screen after you request the ride. Now, you have to double tap on the driver name, then those options pop up. Once you find the “contact driver” button, you have two choices: phone or text. Your text or call doesn’t come from your phone number. It’s a ghost number that vanishes 30 minutes after your trip. This protects your privacy, but allows you to contact the driver shortly after your trip if you’ve left something in the car. Texting the driver to let them know you have a service animal is a good idea because if the driver refuses to take you, there’s an electronic record that Uber can use to discipline the driver.

At the upper left corner of the screen, there’s an unlabeled button. If you double tap on it, you’re in the main menu where you can change your payment option, view your promotional code, look at your trip history, or find the “help” button. Double tapping on “help” gives you options related to previous trips. It also gives you information about Uber. You can find a specific trip, then double tap on it to report an issue. The screen offers several options such as lost items, unprofessional behaviour, fair discrepancies etc.

A member asked about cancelling. Brian answered that there’s a 5-minute window after requesting the trip, within which you can cancel without being charged. Jason said that you cancel by double tapping on the driver’s name, and there’s a cancel button next to the contact driver button.

A member asked what happens to fixed price during a traffic jam. Brian answered that the fixed price remains in place. In extreme cases Uber, will compensate the driver at the back end.

A member asked about splitting the fair among riders. Brian answered that it’s possible to do this from within the ap if each rider has the ap.

Another member asked about multiple destinations. Brian answered that the ap doesn’t currently provide for this. The way to handle it is to tell the driver when you get in the car, then when you’re close to the first destination, the rider goes into the ap and changes the destination to the second one. The driver can also do this for you from within their ap.

Brian explained some of the built-in fees by explaining that, for example, background checks for drivers are paid for by Uber.

A member raised the question of safety again. Brian answered that the background checks for Uber drivers and conventional taxi drivers is the same.

A member asked whether it’s possible to connect directly with a driver you had a great experience with, and request them specifically. Brian answered that this isn’t possible. The goal of Uber is efficiency, so it’s always best and cheapest to send a driver who’s the closest to you.

Uber has a 2-million-dollar liability insurance for all riders through the Intact Insurance company.

Jason raised a question about whether you can rate a driver higher than 5 stars. Adam answered that it’s possible to log in on your computer for more rating options. Passengers are rated by drivers as well. This helps to clarify ambiguous situations where complaints are made. The ratings are stars, and allow for comments as well.


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