At a glance
- Available in hundreds of cities and metros in North America
- Lots of service options, including pet-friendly and wheelchair-accessible rides
- Fare estimator accounts for surge pricing and other factors
- History of questionable business practices
- Looser standards for drivers
- Not as reliable in smaller towns and cities
Like the Lyft app, it lets riders hail drivers electronically and compensate them for their services by credit card. The Uber app offers access to several different levels of service, from cut-rate options (UberX and UberPool) to luxury services like Uber Lux and Uber Black.
To become an Uber rider, you have to download the app, provide some basic personal information, and enter a payment method to be stored on file. Since you pay for each ride, not each passenger, you can reduce the per-person cost of your fare by riding with multiple passengers. In the U.S., Uber users must be at least 18 years old. Age restrictions may vary in other jurisdictions.
If you’re new to Uber, here’s what you need to know about the app and its services.
Uber Service Levels and Price Points
The Uber ride-hailing app has multiple levels of service at varying price points — from very affordable to quite pricey.
UberX (standard Uber service) is generally available everywhere, but other service levels might not be available in all locations or at all times. Uber claims its pricing is cheaper than comparable services offered by taxis and livery (black car) companies.
UberPool and Uber Express Pool
UberPool is a literal ridesharing service — an on-demand carpool for up to four passengers. Pricing is almost always lower than other Uber services, including UberX. But UberPool isn’t available everywhere. It’s mainly available in larger cities and metro areas.
Uber Express Pool is a microtransit service that picks up and drops off passengers at designated locations, just as city buses and trains do. It’s even cheaper than UberPool but isn’t as widely available. You’ll find it mainly in big cities along major traffic arteries and within busy commercial districts.
Be aware that during periods of high demand, you’re very likely to share your UberPool or Uber Express Pool ride with other customers
This is Uber’s standard ride-hailing service. It’s the lowest-priced option that ensures you won’t share a vehicle with people you don’t know. Typical vehicles are compact or midsize sedans and hatchbacks no more than 15 years old.
UberX prices vary by city, but Uber claims that it’s cheaper than a taxi in every market served. This is accurate when regular pricing is in effect, but it’s not the case during periods of high demand, when demand pricing (surge pricing) applies and fares can easily double (or more).
UberXL costs about 50% more than UberX, though pricing varies widely by jurisdiction. Vehicles are more spacious, mostly crossover SUVs and minivans, so they’re better for larger groups of people or smaller groups carrying lots of luggage.
Uber Comfort is a mid-priced option defined by newer vehicles with more legroom, like full-size sedans and small SUVs. Pricing is higher than UberX and the service isn’t available everywhere.
Uber Select is another mid-priced ride in “stylish” vehicles, as defined by Uber. Uber Select rides have room for four passengers and are executed by highly rated drivers. Pricing is higher than UberX and availability is spotty outside major cities.
Uber Green is a low-to-mid-priced service defined by eco-friendly vehicles, chiefly hybrids and electric cars. Capacity and legroom vary by vehicle and pricing typically falls between UberX and Uber Comfort.
Uber Pet features pet-friendly rides in a wide selection of vehicles, from larger sedans to full-size SUVs. Pricing is generally at or above Uber Select and rides may not be available everywhere.
This is Uber’s wheelchair-accessible ride-hailing options. Vehicles are typically modified minivans and crossover SUVs. Pricing varies widely based on local availability and demand.
Uber Black and Uber Black SUV
This was actually Uber’s first service. It’s similar to a livery service and costs roughly double what UberX costs — though, again, rates are subject to local and demand-based variation. Typical Uber Black vehicles are luxury sedans, while Uber Black SUV vehicles are chiefly high-end, full-size SUVs.
This service is about 25% to 50% more expensive than Uber Black. It includes room for more passengers (sometimes as many as eight total riders). Typical vehicles include full-size or luxury SUVs and crossovers.
Uber Lux emulates a limousine service. It can cost as much as 50% more than Uber SUV, though pricing and availability are difficult to predict. It doesn’t use stretch-style limousines, but vehicles do include full-size, foreign luxury models such as the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series.
Key Features of the Uber Ride-Hailing App
Across all of these price points, Uber’s features include the following:
Request a Pickup
To request a pickup, open the Uber app, select your price point, and set your phone to allow GPS tracking (location services). If LTE coverage is limited or intermittent, which often happens in buildings with thick walls, you may need to connect to a local WiFi network.
Once your GPS tracking is enabled, the Uber app automatically finds you and pairs you with a nearby driver, showing their phone number and ETA to your location. You can also manually enter your location. Be aware that if you cancel your on-demand ride request before the driver arrives, Uber may charge a cancellation fee (typically a percentage of the fare).
Schedule a Pickup (Uber Reserve)
If you don’t need a ride right away, use Uber Reserve to schedule one for as soon as 15 minutes or as long as one month out. You can cancel a scheduled ride up to 60 minutes before pickup without penalty.
The Uber app has a built-in calculator that estimates your fare based on your selected price point, distance to be traveled, and current traffic conditions. It’s best used before you begin your trip.
Uber’s pricing system includes a base fare, per-minute charge, and per-mile charge. Other fees may apply as well, some of which result from local regulations or surcharges and from Uber’s commitment to safety (basically, to fund its driver screening process). There’s also a minimum fare and cancellation fee.
All of these rates and potential charges vary by Uber price point and geographical location, even over relatively small distances: The rate you pay in Phoenix could be very different from the rate you pay in L.A.
Uber fares are subject to change over time. Earlier in Uber’s history, the cash-rich company periodically slashed fares in an ongoing price war with Lyft and local taxi companies, but it’s no longer the case that Uber fares fall over time.
Uber automatically and immediately passes the cost of tolls and airport entry fees on to riders (the app uses GPS to track drivers, so it can tell if they pass through a toll booth). If there’s any damage to the interior of the car, such as burns or vomit, it may also bill your card or account for a hefty cleaning fee upon discovery.
Uber drivers don’t accept cash. When you download the app, you provide a credit card number that Uber saves on file. Shortly after signing up, you may notice a ghost charge of a few dollars – the exact amount may vary – on your account for a few days. This is part of the account authorization process.
If you want, you can provide more than one card and choose which to use for each ride. You can also link your PayPal or Google Wallet account to Uber. When your ride is over, your card or online account is automatically charged. You can split the fare with one or more fellow riders, though you must select this option while the ride is in progress and you may encounter a split fare fee. Finally, you can add a gratuity to your payment, though tipping isn’t required.
Driver and Passenger Ratings
After the ride, you have the option to rate your driver on a scale of 1 to 5. Drivers can do the same for riders. If you give a driver a very low rating, you’re never paired with him or her again, even if they’re near your location when you request a future ride.
Uber doesn’t say how ratings directly affect riders. But drivers aren’t required to accept every ride request, so they can use their discretion and ignore requests from nearby riders with poor ratings.
Uber automatically emails you an itemized receipt for every completed ride.
During busy periods, such as weekend evenings and weekday rush hours, Uber may temporarily increase its fares to encourage more drivers to work. The rate of the increase depends on local demand and the number of drivers currently working, but it can exceed 100% of the base rate. Uber keeps some of this surcharge and passes the rest on to the driver.
City-Specific Promotions and Discounts
When Uber moves into a new city, it typically offers promo codes, vouchers, and ride credits – all downloadable – for a few weeks. It also offers referral credits when you refer new riders with a personalized link. The value of these promotions varies by time and location, so check your city-specific Uber site.
Lost and Found
If you lose something in an Uber driver’s car, you can click a special link on your emailed receipt to notify Uber.
If this link isn’t working, which can happen with certain email servers, your account has a special page that shows all the recent rides you took and provides contact information for each driver. It doesn’t notify the driver, though, so in both cases you need to contact your driver and arrange for them to meet or send you the item.
If you can’t get in touch, Uber’s support team will communicate directly with the driver.
Other Uber Services
Beyond its signature ride-hailing solution, Uber offers some other notable services to customers. The two most common are Uber Eats (food delivery) and Uber Connect (package delivery).
Uber Eats is a food delivery app that you can use to order from your favorite restaurants – assuming they participate, of course. It’s available in most major U.S. cities. Delivery surcharges vary, but are generally competitive with local and national delivery apps such as GrubHub. Uber drivers can work for Uber Eats when they’re not transporting passengers.
Uber Connect is a package delivery service that you can use to send and receive packages using Uber drivers as couriers. This service isn’t available in all areas and pricing varies widely.
Advantages of the Uber Ride-Hailing App
Uber has some notable advantages over traditional taxi companies and local ride-hailing services:
- More Ways to Pay. Uber is completely cashless, which makes it more secure for drivers and passengers alike. And because it accepts mobile wallet services such as Google Pay, you don’t even have to provide a credit card before using its services.
- Cheaper Ways to Get Around. In bigger cities, UberPool and Uber Express Pool offer faster, more convenient alternatives to traditional public transportation services. Both are more affordable than UberX, and Uber Express Pool is sometimes on par with public transit.
- Clutch Fare Estimator Tool. Uber’s fare estimator tool provides an accurate (though not foolproof) picture of the cost of a particular ride at a particular point in time. Use it to see whether Uber is cheaper than hailing a cab or switching to the Lyft app.
- Order Food and Packages Through Uber. Unlike Lyft, its main competitor, Uber has a built-in food delivery service (Uber Eats) and courier service (Uber Connect). Uber Connect isn’t as widely available or well-developed as Eats, but it’s enough to make Uber more than a single-purpose app.
- Lots of Ride Options. Uber has something for just about every ride-hailing preference or need, including pet-friendly, eco-friendly, and wheelchair-accessible rides.
Disadvantages of the Uber Ride-Hailing App
Uber has some notable downsides that might give new users pause (or at least encourage them to try Lyft first):
- Less Driver-Friendly Than Lyft. Uber’s driver-friendliness or lack thereof indirectly affects the rider experience as well. Though it’s not clear that Uber is an app of last resort for drivers unwelcome on Lyft, that’s a potential risk moving forward.
- History of Questionable Business Practices. Uber has borne the brunt of multiple major corporate scandals and drawn scrutiny from U.S. regulatory and criminal authorities in the process. Leadership changes in the late 2010s helped the company turn the page, but corporate culture can be difficult to shift and it’s worth noting that Lyft has a much cleaner track record.
How Uber Stacks Up
The Uber ride-hailing service only has one real competitor in the United States. That’s Lyft, the “other” anytime-anywhere ride-hailing app.
Here’s how Uber and Lyft stack up against one another:
|Services and Price Points||More||Fewer|
|Food and Goods Delivery||Yes||No|
Uber is a versatile app that offers an alternative to taxi companies and higher-end car services alike. Due to low prices and wait times, it’s particularly useful for budget-conscious riders and those who need to get places in a hurry. And it’s available in virtually every sizable city and town, and in many rural and semi-rural areas too.
I’ve personally used Uber and have generally had good experiences with the app. That said, I’ve also used Lyft quite a bit and found it every bit as useful and user-friendly. I’d recommend either (or both) for your ride-hailing needs.