The 411 on Uber in Paris

Jun 13, 2012
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A few weeks ago I wrote an albeit satirical piece when I found out that a competitor to Uber had cropped up, namely Chauffeur Privé. My proposition at the time was that the best way to decide which service was best was to have a private chauffeur race. Well, I couldn’t quite convince my girlfriend to race me home in a private car, and both companies made it pretty clear that I would not be able to treat the driver/car like a stead, but they did both invite me to use the service, and so I thought I’d give my sentiments about what I think about it after having used the service.

I’d like to note here that I will be using the American startup Uber as my example, as I have used their service, but my impression is that, from an end-user perspective, the user experience is nearly identical between Uber and their French competitor, Chauffeur Prive – which is NOT to say that the two companies are identical.

Some context – Taxis suck & Metros close at 2AM.

Paris has a very active night-life, go figure. And yet, unlike New York, the metro system closes after 2AM. In addition, again unlike New York, finding a taxi at 4AM is freaking impossible. The number of taxis in Paris is smaller per capita than New York, and they don’t seem to really care about getting fares during the evening. In a Pre-Uber world, the only options were biking, thanks to the Velib system in Paris that allows you to pay about a euro or less to ride a bike across down at 2:30AM, or walking.

The value-added of Uber becomes pretty obvious here, and I got a first-hand account a few weekends ago when I hailed my first Uber.

“Wait? What do I do now? Do I pay, or just walk away from the car?”

I was impressed, but not too surprised, when the car showed up less than five minutes after I confirmed the pickup – Uber had, in fact, told me it would be less than 5 minutes before I even ordered the car. The driver & I played a quick game of “find the client” as I climbed up a set of stairs from the quai where I had spent the evening (a boat in the Seine) – to my surprise, the driver drove right up to the boat where I had ordered the car, got out and waved up to me and drove around to come up to the main road.

Apologizing as he opened the door for myself and my girlfriend, we sat down in the back seat and we were off. We chit-chatted a bit, but the drive was only reactionary, never taking the conversation further than we had. He asked us about the temperature in the car, whether we wanted music or not, and politely answered my probing questions about what it was like working for Uber. The driver had formerly been working for one client as a private driver, and had switched in the past ten days to driving with Uber – I didn’t ask whether he worked exclusively with them or not.

I think the biggest ‘oh fuck’ moment was when we rolled up in front of the door. I got my iPhone out after he let me out, but he just wished me a nice evening, and told me the transaction had been taken care of automatically. Walking up to the door, an email notification of the completed payment and receipt reminded me that I did, in fact, live in the 21st century, and I didn’t need to confirm any purchase in person any more.

My thoughts on Private Drivers…

Uber is a nice service – certainly a luxury service. If you try to get Uber rep’s to talk about their Taxi-cab competition, they will immediately remind you that the entire way you deal with Uber is different than they way you deal with a taxi, and the luxury and a convenience put them in a different bracket. I disagree, but they’re definitely differentiating themselves.

I sat down with Uber Paris rep. Michelle Chmielewiski after my ride, and she was quick to curb the conversation towards the “uber culture” – and she had good reason to. Any day you pick to try Uber out for the first time, I suggest you check out your city’s Uber blog, because they are constantly running contests and partnerships to encourage and animate their community. For example, I got Uber to team up with myself and Dojoboost for our monthly Founders Event, an event located far from the startup comfort zone of the Sentier district of Paris. We’ve had trouble in the past getting people to come out to the lower 15th of Paris, so Uber is stepping in and giving every passenger 15 euros off the ride to AND from the event – considering my last ride form the 15th to my house was only a bit over 20 euros, that puts your private ride to and from the event at just about 15 euros.

Not just for drunk clubbers

While the easiest example to give is always that of someone who can’t find a taxi, Ubers drivers are just as active throughout the day as they are after 2AM. I know personally a few clients who use it to go anywhere longer than a 10 minute walk, because it beats the metro and you can hail it in seconds. Michelle told me another interesting use case that I’m itching to try out – you want to offer someone else a ride home, so you hail an Uber on your account. The driver takes that person home, and your account is automatically charged – no chatting with the driver, no bargaining the price in advance. Want to take a girl out late, but she doesn’t want to miss the last metro? Offer her a free ride home. Who knows – she might just take you home with her.