How Uber Started To Suck

Uber’s public relations disasters were myriad five years ago. Drivers hated them. Story after story came out about their hubris, their regulatory problems, and their toxic workplace culture.

They’ve turned around that narrative, but the narrative now is that they’re just no longer a great product. They’re on demand transportation that’s often more expensive than a cab. They’re deliver for cold food that takes too long and now often makes stops between picking up your meal and bringing it to you. And they’re very little else.

Uber once had a vision far beyond transportation. They’d be intimately involved in moving people and things around cities. That would put them at the center of peoples’ lives.

  • So it made sense when they launched a rewards currency and a co-brand credit card that they might succeed with their own digital currency that was interoperable, far beyond Uber’s own ecosystem.

  • It would be a real currency, leveraging Uber’s reach and brand, that had uses in meat space far more practical than crypto.

Yet Uber has largely given up on its ambitions. I suppose that was the inevitable consequence of appointing the CEO of Expedia, of all companies, to replace their ousted founder.

Expedia is a company that advertises to generate traveler eyeballs and sells those eyeballs to hotels – the hotel is the customer not the consumer, and there has been little in the way of real innovation from the online booking platform in decades. Expedia even has a history of taking a weak rewards program and making it continually worse.

So not only did Uber largely leave its credit card deal dormant, never even advertising it in-app or during rides, they gave up on the card. And the card was the primary way their currency was being minted.

They’ve even mostly given up on the rewards program. It was mediocre at launch, but since then:

  • They’ve eliminated upgrades as a top tier elite benefit
  • They’ve eliminated ‘price protection’ (no surge) from a single favorite route as an elite benefit
  • They’ve devalued the currency. At a minimum you used to get 1 cent per point (so a minimum 1% rebate on spend, higher for more premium or better margin products). Now it’s tough to get that, with new redemption options that require higher point totals for lower values.

I use both Uber and Lyft. I have my monthly Amex credits, and I enjoy earning 10 Chase points per dollar with Lyft. Sometimes one or the other offers faster rides or better pricing.

My wife and I share a car, and my primary destination is the airport. The replacement for Uber’s ‘price protection on your favorite route’ elite benefit was 10x points on that route. My route is the airport. My airport roundtrips alone are enough to earn Uber’s top tier Diamond status.

Perhaps the biggest sign Uber has given up, or at least give up on loyalty? When they stopped extending elite status during the pandemic, and my status was downgraded, they never told me. When I re-earned Diamond status they never told me.

I have to remind myself how bad taxis were (and are) because Uber is so frustrating. Taxis were always limited in number by regulation, so there were never enough. They were hard to get. You’d spend time flagging them down on the street (in the rain and cold) and then they might not even want to go where you were going. Once you got one the car was invariably in poor condition, because they earned the same amount whether it was well-maintained or not.

So Uber is great compared to taxis but that’s something they accomplished almost a decade ago. Uber changed on-demand ground transportation but then it settled. For all of its sins, it used to be an innovative company and now it’s not. And that part at least is worth lamenting.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. For some reason, every time I check rideshare fares Uber is 50-100% more expensive than Lyft. Not sure what’s going on.

  2. Yep, it’s so expensive, I rarely use it, and when I do, I use Lyft, not Uber. No way I’m paying those kind of charges…

  3. I still miss the original days of Uber when every car was a black town car. I like the options to spend less, but it was nice knowing what you were getting. Now you get cars that are almost as bad as some taxi’s on Uber X, a little better on comfort, and some are brand new and really nice. Uber Black is sometimes an option, but always seems to be a Suburban which I don’t prefer personally. Most probably aren’t as picky, but the inconsistency for booking the same level of ride is the biggest downside now. I had also had drivers that really don’t know the area, even the major highways. Overall I still value the service, but definitely is hit or miss.

  4. In NYC, it is far cheaper to take a taxi to JFK than an UberX.

    I am not using Uber much any more.

  5. Lyft is better in big cities. Uber has gone downhill in the states (but I’ve been happy with it in Europe). Still better than yellow cabs. Don’t miss those days

  6. My issue is when scheduling a ride with Uber it is one price, then the next day because their is an increase. Twice this happened going to the airport. Apparently no Uber riders so they jacked the prices.

  7. The issue I find with Uber (in Chicago) is they either price the ride 10% less than a cab or 100% more. My cab from ORD to home is $35+tip. My Ubers are either $32 or $70 to $80. It’s either or slight discount or they try and bend me over. It’s not a sustainable model. They’d be smart to raise avg prices to slightly above cab prices but lower the surge pricing to a reasonable amount.

    The only benefit is the once insane cab lines are now super short.

  8. Ride sharing in general sucks. One of my rare times using it was after returning a Silvercar at SFO and climbing into a filthy Toyota Corolla and then giving the driver directions to the airport. That was the last time in a ride share and the last time I rented a Silvercar. I’ll pick a taxi (still usually filthy), a limo service, or mass transit

  9. When I go to Miami, an Uber Black is almost always the same amount of money as an Uber X or only a little more money. So, that works in my favor. Also, Uber’s customer service is very good about refunding Uber Eats orders when the food is wrong or delivered cold.

  10. “Why Uber Is Great And Airbnb Is Awful” by Gary Leff on June 12, 2022.

    I’m suffering from cognitive dissonance.

  11. I have several friends in Toronto who don’t use UBER any more, as they can’t get service. The app shows a vehicle approaching, then the vehicle disappears. A few weeks ago we drove a friend downtown who had been waiting 30-minutes for his UBER ride to show up. Watching him trying to cancel the trip that never showed was something I would never want to go through.

  12. Try Curb. It’s like Lyft or Uber only for taxis. In Chicago, it is cheaper (often by far) than either Lyft and Uber and is often more likely to actually provide a car. It’s what the cab companies should have immediately adopted when Uber debuted and torpedoed their business.

  13. @ 1KBrad — Sometimes. One should definitely comparison shop taxi, Lyft, Uber, etc. for Manhattan to JFK trips.

  14. Here in Zurich, they show a car coming in 3-4 minutes, followed by “looking for new driver”. Again and again..
    I have a passenger rating of 4.4.

    I end up ordering a taxi in frustration.

  15. @gene I use OBI app to compare and book real-time Uber, Lyft, livery in one app, though I mostly use Curb, like @TKD, to go to NYC airports (JFK, LGA, EWR) in taxi. Good price and minimal wait. No more street hailing. In NYC, many of the full-time Uber/Lyft drivers are driving trucks for better pay.

  16. Uber is holding out for self-driving vehicles. That is their next stage. People don’t want to drive for Uber or Lyft because they can’t make enough money doing it. Right now the business model is dead without self driving vehicles.

  17. @Brutus – the arguments in both posts are entirely consistent. Uber competes against taxis, so solved a real problem, but Uber has stopped innovating. Airbnb is useful in limited cases – families traveling together in groups, stays in places without many hotel options.

  18. In NYC, taxis have gotten better and Uber worse.

    I. My area, I can count on an Uber for an early airport ride (suburban LA). I’ll schedule. Then at 5:50 am gif a 6 am pickup, they will cancel. Next Uber is a half hour to arrival.

    Uber Eats is the worst of the good delivery service, huge error rate, no customer service.

  19. Uber started to suck when Wall Street stopped subsidizing their business. It turns out that hiring people to drive you around isn’t so cheap. That said, I think the service, while not as revolutionary as originally envisioned, is still way better than the way the taxi industry was run.

  20. I left Uber a few years ago due to a scenario similar to but worse than that of beachfan. Was heading to dinner and five drivers canceled in succession and missed my reservation time. And, the thing is that the scenario was not an isolated event. Never (stinkin’) again.

    In the absence of a readily available cab, I’ll use the Curb app. Just as good, no surge pricing, and have never been stiffed.

  21. For me the Uber ship has long since sailed.
    I live a few miles from The San Diego airport near the Downtown.
    I arrived into San Diego and clicked on Uber normally in the past a 10 to 13 dollar ride and it said 68 dollars!
    I clicked on Lyft and it was much lower @ 47 dollars.
    Thousands were crowding the ride share platform spilling into the street as most everyone paid a huge premium and watched intently to find their rideshare car in the group chaos.I walked over to the taxi stand one of 3 people and (gasp) took the cab to my door for a total of 16 dollars
    plus a tip without any congestion on an empty platform.

    Cost aside the number one reason I avoid Uber is the inability to recover from problems should I have them and I way to reach customer service.It is at your own risk
    Did I say their wildly overpriced now too ?

  22. Most of the comments in this post can be paraphrased as “Uber was great when they subsidized every trip by burning through almost limitless VC cash.” They were never truly innovative. Mobile phone dispatched cars are a vast improvement over taxis (especially in San Francisco), but Uber didn’t invent that. Their corporate culture was toxic, dishonest & immoral. They regularly broke the law.

  23. Taxi’s area not cheaper when stuck in traffic for 2 hours…like in Chicago-from the airport to downtown hotels…It’s time vs flat rate with Uber or Lyft

  24. Three weeks ago, I needed to catch an airport shuttle at 7:17 a.m. The night before, I scheduled a ride from Uber. I got an email that says “Your ride is booked” without any qualification, including in fine print. When no car showed up halfway through their 7:17-7:27 a.m. window, I got nervous. I checked the app, which said that no drivers were available. Ultimately, no driver showed up. How Uber expects us to take them seriously when you can book a ride and have no ride show up is beyond me. All they offered was a $5 credit when — in this particular case — I could have ended up missing an international flight. I love the convenience of Uber — when it works — but it is pointless if I can’t count on them to help me get to the airport.

  25. @Runs Pretty Good for a Fat Guy – Bravo…. Uber’s only innovation was to take advantage of VC money to provide a section of the under-employed/less employable workforce with gig work. The rides were almost always being subsidized and provided @ below cost. Now both sides of the equation have dramatically changed. The VC $$ has dried up, and shockingly – the VC’s are demanding a return. Plus – the lower quintile of the workforce have seen wage avg increases of between 12-18% since the start of the pandemic.

    VC’s and low-wage workers are not subsidizing middle/upper income bourgeois and bourgeois wannabes anymore. The amount of empathy I have could fit in a thimble.

  26. I think Ubers best effect has been to develop competitors
    In USA- Lyft & Elsewhere – many app based programs
    e.g., India – Ola – even for small rickshaws – a real boon for the masses
    China has its own services
    Russia has its own service
    Had the cabs innovated by moving to ride hailing sooner, Uber would be dead VC$$ or not

    Having tried to negotiate a ride in a taxi at 2 AM in a strange bus stop or airport – compare to now getting a ride by app – is a great development for many travelers

  27. “…/deliver for cold food that takes too long and now often makes stops between picking up your meal and bringing it to you”

    This is the part we still cannot figure out. How the hell did this become possible?

    You sit there watching the map get updated and wonder why it’s taking 45 minutes for your food to travel 2.5 miles — a distance you could have easily traveled yourself.

    And now you know: the Uber driver is handling multiple requests at once.


  28. @Gary
    I know you never edit your posts, but I’m still trying to figure out what “meat space” is.

    Seriously, everyone here needs to read the Uber files. If it were a Ponzi scheme it would be infinitely better.

    Uber is an acronym that stands for Unethical Business Evading Responsibility.

  29. ORD to downtown, $5 and about 50 minutes on CTA. Even with Covid cutbacks, comparably short wait. During traffic jam time, which is most of the time, you glide past the cars parked on the Kennedy.

    inquiring minds do want to know about “meat space”. Have I missed another buzz phrase?

  30. Here in Lisbon, Portugal, Bolt beats Uber in price and availability. Local drivers who work with both prefer Bolt over Uber.

  31. @YULtide – ‘meat space’ refers to the physical world (in contrast to cyberspace), Uber is a tech company interacting with atoms not merely bits

  32. I only use Uber to rid myself of the monthly Amex Uber credits.

    With that said, I’ve noticed they consistently take 10-15 min to arrive once I confirm the ride. I’ve even had a few where a driver is confirmed and en route, then after about 10 min, they cancel and a new driver is dispatched. And again, the 10-15 min wait clock starts all over again.

    Also, I remember when Uber first began and they touted themselves as a cashless, tipless experience. It took the awkwardness out of the whole tipping experience (did I tip too much? Too little?). But eventually, they caved to public pressure.

  33. Uber has its issues, but the ability to book a car on the app and see where it is was a game changer. I well remember how bad taxis were. Though I still tend to use them at some airports. But competitors can do that, too. PreCovid, I regularly used G7 in Paris for taxis and Blacklane in Europe.

  34. UberEats
    a) Inflates the cost of every menu item to offset the 40% discounts they offer up to 15.00
    b) The number of restaurants that are members isn’t that great
    c) Lots of hidden service fees
    d) far too often drivers are unavailable or restaurants are listed as too far away without making sense. Some restaurants are 10 miles away and available to deliver. Some 5 miles are not

    Uber Rides
    1) My biggest beef is drivers can cancel with no penalty. They’ll say 15-20 minutes and cancel one minute beforehand. You can’t rate a driver that ditches a call. Wildly unfair. If rates have gone up in the meanwhile no other driver wants to pick up that ticket
    2) Second scheduling a pickup a day or so in advance isn’t guaranteed .I’ve had drivers cancel on a pre scheduled pickup on way to airport on numerous o occasions

    Uber has no real customer service process

  35. @TKD In Chicago, I use American Taxi for airport trips. They have an app, and are good at matching drivers and passengers, and it’s a fixed price. Elsewhere, the two times I tried to use Uber, they were no-shows, and I gave up on trying to use them. I don’t use drivers often, as I either use public transit in international destinations, and mostly drive to the airport.

  36. Whine about the drivers when they’re suffering more than the riders.

    Uber pits them against each other. This whole enterprise is doomed to fail from the start.

    Unless Lyft and Uber merge which will only prolong the misery. Self driving cars won’t arrive soon enough to save Uber, if ever.

    Should have marketed themselves as a superior than taxi experience with higher than taxi prices….and limited the employee pool

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