Is Uber the best travel app ever?

Is Uber ever not in the news? Between battles in France, Cape Town and the South African taxi industry, the hugely successful ride hailing app has made plenty of vested interests very uncomfortable.

A lot of the tension focuses on the supply side of the equation — the taxi drivers — rather than the users who benefit from the service.

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Here’s something to consider: Uber is a godsend for foreign visitors, and it’s presence in a city is a competitive advantage.

I speak from personal experience. Recently, Uber made a huge difference to my visits to Tokyo and then Bangalore.

Tokyo has very good public transport, but schlepping an entire art exhibition between our hotel and the railway station was not an ordeal I could face. In Bangalore, you need to be a local to tackle some of the world’s most chaotic traffic, which means it’s far better to be get someone else to do it for you.

Uber has a very good presence in Bangalore in particular, as this screen grab of a trip I booked makes clear:

I was very grateful to have it, because Uber makes three things much easier for travellers:

1. Payment

No need to scratch for local currency or produce a credit card. You simply call for a ride and climb out when the trip is done.

2. Language is no longer a problem

In Tokyo, our Uber drivers spoke minimal English, but they knew exactly where I wanted to go.

3. Convenience

You don’t have to stand next to the road to flag down a passing taxi or hunt for a local contact number; you simply open the app and type in your destination. In Bangalore, with its virtually non-existent pavements, this was a boon.

The one thing you do need in order to use Uber is WiFi, particularly because data roaming is often not an option. We solved this problem with a mobile hotspot, something that I’d recommend to anyone travelling to a destination with mobile network coverage.

Uber is not without its problems – it has been the subject of bad publicity in India, where an Uber driver was accused of rape, and women I spoke to said they would never consider using the service without a male companion. Our service in India was not consistently good, with drivers either getting lost or taking the wrong route.

But its seamlessly global interface, which makes transport in almost any city as easy as a click on your phone, is revolutionary. A city without Uber is a city that loses its competitive advantage in an increasingly globalized world.

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