On our return from Germany last month, we stayed overnight in New York City, flying into JFK on airberlin Saturday evening and out of LaGuardia on Delta the next morning. Traveling between the two airports and midtown Manhattan should be easy on public transportation, but when we boarded an E train Saturday evening in Jamaica, we discovered after 30 seconds of panic and 2 minutes of confusion that E trains were running on F tracks in Manhattan.
Unrelated: is there another city in the world that phrases their maintenance-related inconveniences in this way? On every other system I'm familiar with, if such a rerouting were required, they would announce that "this train is an F train between such-and-such stations." Why do New Yorkers insist on saying that it remains an E train while behaving in every way like an F train? Is it for union-related purposes, so E-train drivers can continue to operate what are obviously F trains?
Rather than try to figure out which E trains were E trains and which E trains were F trains, Sunday afternoon we decided to take a car to LaGuardia instead.
UberPOOL was strange, but cheap
This taxi fare guesser suggests a yellow cab would have cost $26.70, plus tip, for our Sunday trip to the airport, and the Uber app estimates an UberX would cost $32-$41. Then, since I'd never seen the UberPOOL icon in my Uber app before, I decided to check how much that would cost, and was offered a fixed price of $26.27.
This ended up feeling like an even better deal than those numbers suggest because Sunday was also the day of the New York City Pride march, and 5th Avenue was tied up with revelers. So instead the driver took what I guess you would call the scenic route under Central Park to avoid the parade. This longer route would have run up a higher UberX or yellow cab fare, so we benefited from locking in our UberPOOL rate in advance.
That's not the strange part. The strange part is that since the driver ignored the directions Uber was feeding him, he was forced to ignore all the other UberPOOL users trying to hail him. For Uber to add people to a pool they have to be able to predict where a driver will be, and when. But since our driver was never where he was supposed to be, he ignored all the additional UberPOOL requests he was given, and we enjoyed a private ride to the airport.
I will definitely use UberPOOL again, if I'm ever in a city where it's offered as an option. Their prices seem extremely competitive, and I consider being able to lock in prices in advance regardless of traffic and route to be a big convenience.
Now, I'm perfectly aware that having a fixed up-front price does not save anyone money, on average, and indeed allows Uber to apply "sneak" surge pricing and quiet rate increases. I'm totally fine with that — if the ride's too expensive, I'll take a different form of transportation. You should too.
This is what Uber's promise should be: identify the most annoying practices of the existing cab monopolies, and eliminate them. Then, some people will be willing to pay higher prices to avoid experiencing those inconveniences and some people won't. I consider the constantly-ticking taximeter and attendant fear that a driver is taking you on the long haul and deliberating missing traffic lights to be one such inconvenience, and I'll happily pay a premium to avoid it.