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What You Need to Know About Uber

You need a ride. Some random individual has a car and some free time. The solution: Ridesharing apps like Uber, which let you link up and grab a lift.

Ridesharing is a peer-to-peer movement that is disrupting the transportation space. And Uber is its king. An app that matches drivers with riders and uses a seamless, tip-free, and cash-free payment system, Uber is available in 35 countries and growing. Using the Uber app and a credit card, you can e-hail a car, see an estimated wait time displayed on your phone, and get to your destination quickly. No need to stand on the street waiving your arm in desperation or search the city for an ATM.

Alas, it’s not exactly so simple. There a few things you should know before you take an Uber ride. 

You Have Options

Although Uber is by and large the biggest provider in the rideshare space, there are other options, depending on where you’re riding. Lyft, a company that is reportedly growing faster than Uber, uses furry pink moustaches to mark its vehicles, relies on Facebook verification for both passengers and drivers, and encourages fistbumping between users. SideCar matches private drivers with people in need of rides, and features a 10-point safety verification system that includes background checks and rating systems. Both SideCar and Lyft rely primarily on private vehicle owners—mostly people who want to earn some extra money in their spare time.

There Are Different Kinds of Uber

Depending on what city you’re in, Uber offers up to five types of vehicles. There’s Black Car, Uber’s original, mid-priced service. SUV and LUX are the most expensive Uber options, which will send SUVs or luxury cars, respectively, to pick you up. UberX is the most budget-friendly choice, and it’s available in 25 U.S. markets. Finally, there’s Uber’s Taxi option, which sends a traditional cab that has joined forces with the ride-share service.

Uber Uses Surge Pricing

Uber’s algorithm-based “surge pricing” strategy is centered on demand. The price of a ride fluctuates in accordance with the market. During holidays or popular events, or on foul-weather days, for instance, fare costs will rise because more people are using the service. Case in point: A New York Times writer reported that she was charged $47 on New Year’s Day for a ride that normally would have cost $13.

A lot of people hate this pricing structure, and Uber is taking steps to soothe those disgruntled customers. This year, the company will upgrade its app by adding push notifications that let users know when prices drop back down after a surge.

You Don’t Have to Tip

Uber uses a cashless system. You pay via debit or credit card before your ride; this removes any human-to-human payment transfer from the equation. (Uber takes 20 percent of a driver’s fare, and the rest is his or hers to keep.) You’re welcome to tip if you really want to. But it’s not necessary.

If you’re using Uber Taxi, however, a 20 percent tip is automatically added to your fare.

You Can Split Fares

Uber’s Fare Split feature was introduced last year. Go even-steven by using the app, which allows riders to split fares with anyone who has signed up for Uber and installed the app. Just select “Split Fare” when it’s time to pay, and Uber will send a confirmation message to your ride buddies.

Uber Considers Itself an ‘Information Provider’

Uber isn’t a transportation company, according to Uber. It’s a service and information provider that connects riders with third-party “transportation providers.” At the end of the day, it’s just an app; this designation allows Uber to wiggle out of liabilities and consumer-protection laws, as well as many local taxi and limousine laws. Uber’s reluctance to play by the livery rules is the root cause of most of the controversies surrounding Uber. Which brings us to our next point….

It’s Controversial

Uber competes directly with highly-regulated taxi services in major cities, yet it operates mostly outside of the local and federal regulations that apply to cabs. Ergo, a legal backlash has escalated in cities across the U.S. Chicago-based cab companies initiated a lawsuit against Uber, claiming that the ride-share service should comply with the same rules the govern taxi dispatchers. Similar lawsuits have been filed in New York City, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

Uber Is Not Responsible for Your Stuff

Ride at your own risk. Uber isn’t responsible if you lose your stuff in a car. It’s not going to reimburse you for a lost anything. But it’ll help you search. The company launched a new product at the end of last year that aims to help passengers locate phones, wallets, and other possessions accidentally abandoned Uber cars. It’s called Uber Lost, and it provides riders with a list of recent trips so that they can better track down their stuff.

It’s Creepy, Say Some

There have been reports of Uber drivers digging up the contact information of former customers and of drivers sexually harassing riders. (Read about it on The Daily Beast and Chicago Tribune.) As The Daily Beast reports, Uber drivers have access to passengers’ first and last names—as do cab drivers in most cities. But when enough complaints are issued about a driver, Uber will deactivate his or her account, effectively firing that driver. And a wayward driver is a wayward driver, whether you’re in an Uber car or a traditional cab. Take that as you will.

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(Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images)

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