Byko: Finding out if Uber is super, or just a loser

Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky is learning to love Uber, but this newbie said no to the special fare deal on 8th Street at Filbert.

I DIDN'T FEEL like I missed the boat when I read in the Inquirer that Uber had emailed a reduced-rate plan a few weeks back to a limited number of customers.

I was one of them, but I'm an Uber newbie and wary of anything I get in an email. That includes offers from Nigerian princes to make me rich or compliments from readers.

I eschewed Uber for a long time because, unlike other parts of the city, cabs are plentiful where I live in Center City. I didn't need to call for a car.

I also sympathized with taxi drivers, mostly immigrants, who work long shifts to make a barely decent wage. Uber drivers, who work only when they feel like it, were kind of like vultures, I felt.

When Uber first arrived, I was shown the ropes by Philly Mag's Victor Fiorillo, who was doing a story on the hot new thing that had just rolled into town.

As we finished after-work drinks, he used his phone to order a ride, and five minutes later a black limo pulled up. That's what the fleet was then. Fiorillo's phone gave the driver's name and displayed his photo and info about the ride, which was a Lincoln Town Car.

It was a little more expensive than a cab, Fiorillo said, but the car was clean and roomy.

Nice concept, but something I didn't need.

"It's great! You should sign up!," commanded former Mayor John Street after I addressed his class at Temple last year. He uses Uber all the time (when he's not blowing red lights on his bicycle, he told me).

When I expressed my sympathy for beleaguered cabdrivers, the little guys, his people, he gave me a look that said, "Tough noogies. I like the convenience."

Hope I'm not telling tales out of school, but we were out of school.

Even before I became a customer, I noted Uber's presence in Center City, especially after dark, providing extra eyes on the street as the cars idle while awaiting a call. Kind of like an unofficial town watch.

 

Nevertheless, I remained Uberless until last month.

I took a bad fall in November, rupturing my quadriceps. After a couple of months of working from home, I was ready to get back to the office, with my left leg in a rigid brace and me wheeling myself on a walker. Since my knee won't bend, I must slide into the back and stretch my legs across the seat.

The backseats of most cabs are so cramped I have trouble crawling in even when I am not impaired, so it was Uber Time.

The deal offered by Uber in February would not have saved me much. I usually pay $6.41 for a ride and the reduced fare was $4.49. It's not like I couldn't use an extra $2, but the offer reminded me of bait-and-switch deals by cable companies that give you a stiff discount for a few months, then bop you with the "regular" charge.

Sensing aggravation, I didn't take the offer.

Inquirer reporter Jason Laughlin's story on the price promotion reported that Uber is valued at $69 billion, but it runs in the red and lost $3 billion in 2016. Sky-high valuation while you are losing money. My company should have such luck.

In the month I've been Uberized, I've found about half the drivers are immigrants, just like the cabdrivers. A few tell me they are former cabdrivers who surrendered to the ride-sharing onslaught. Turns out they are not vultures.

Almost all the drivers were polite. They don't expect tips, but I tip. The cars are crazy diverse. I've been in everything from a small Ford Focus to a giant Ram 1500.

Many drivers come from Jersey, which means they don't know Philly well. GPS helps, but it's not foolproof.

When they go wrong, I become a backseat driver.

I'm sure they appreciate it.

When I'm mobile again, will I use Uber?

Probably not. I'll resume walking to work.

But I'm glad it's there.

stubyko@phillynews.com

215-854-5977

@StuBykofsky

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