Uber is the Future of Urban Transportation – Going Carless in Philly

A few years ago, there were only three ways to get around Philadelphia without driving. You could take a cab, you could take SEPTA, or you could ride your bike. Cabs are expensive and unreliable, especially if you call one into any part of town that isn’t Center City. SEPTA is okay, but it only runs in very select areas of the city. Riding the bike is great, but seasonal and a bit dangerous. It’s also hard to fit basic items like cat litter, paper towels, and toilet paper in a backpack.

So, any resident of Philadelphia who doesn’t live in Center City basically needed a car to do even basic things like grocery shop.

What’s wrong with that?

My car is paid off, but there are still monthly bills associated with it. At a minimum, insurance, registration, and gas.

It's a zombie destroying tank. 2000 Land Rover Discovery II.

It’s a zombie destroying tank. 2000 Land Rover Discovery II.

Then there are the costs of things like paying for a garage, fender benders, and repairs.

And of course, parking tickets….

PPA boot

The PPA will find you

Owning a car in Philadelphia kind of sucks…

My old car. This is why we can't have nice things in Philly.

My old car. This is why we can’t have nice things in Philly.

Before getting my Land Rover, I used to drive a Honda Civic. When I bought it, I figured it would be a nice, affordable, practical car. But no. It was vandalized, the wheels were stolen, and someone ran into my door. Eventually I had to sell it due to all the damage. That is why now I choose to now drive a tank, which I’ve had surprisingly few problems with.

Driving from Fishtown to Center City costs me about $5 in gas, $25 for a parking garage, and there’s always the risk of a fender bender or parking ticket.

Between insurance, tickets, and registration, the nanny state makes driving a car expensive, even if you own your car outright.

Based on the writings of Mike Cernovich and Victor Pride, I decided to try an experiment and go carless for a month. (Mike and Victor preach living like a Spartan, and not wasting money on unnecessary crap to expand your freedom).

The Plan

This is how I did it:

– For short trips to the grocery store, I take my bicycle and backpack. (I have two backpacks. The Saddleback is used for grocery shopping and heavy hiking, while I take a CamelBak MULE for long bike trips where I need quick access to water).
– For larger items, I use Amazon Pantry. (toilet paper, paper towels, cat litter, etc.) They get delivered to my home without having to go anywhere. I use Amazon Prime for just about everything. You can literally buy any type of food off Amazon now.
– All other trips are taken with UberX.

Hasn’t this always been an option? Why not take a cab?

Cometh UberX

About a year ago, Uber came to Philadelphia. It is the best thing ever. God bless Travis Kalanick.

There are questions about its legality here in Philly. Namely, the PPA contends Ubers are functioning as illegal taxies.

Why not just take a taxi? What’s the difference?

This is what it’s like taking Uber:

[I punch my address into the app. It says a driver will be there in 6 minutes. His name is William and he will be driving a red Cadillac. In about six minutes, William sends me text saying saying he’s out front of my house. When I get in the car, William doesn’t ask me for directions, because our destination is already plugged into his GPS. The music on the background is old jazz, which I like. His car is exceptionally clean.]

“Jordan?” William already knows my name.
“That’s me. Thanks for picking me up.”
“No problem. Would you like water, or to charge your phone? Are you okay with the music? And would you like the air conditioning or the windows down?”
“Music is great. I love Miles Davis. Let’s go air conditioning. It’s like 95 degrees out.”
“You got it. We’ll be at The Prime Rib in about 13 minutes.”
[During the ride, we make pleasant conversation. It turns out William is a retired bus driver. He’s funny and tells me some good stories.

In about 20 minutes we arrive at the restaurant, exactly when the app said we would. After we chatted, I sat in the back of the car sending emails from my iPad. When I depart, I see that the ride cost me $6.82.

Uh oh. When I get into the restaurant, I realize that I left my wallet in the car. Shit! But it’s no problem. I send William a message through the app saying that I left my wallet in his back seat. He’s back within 5 minutes. Crisis averted. I rate William 5 stars and leave a note to the company about what a cool dude he is.]

This is what it’s like taking a cab…

[I call the dispatcher who is rude and in a hurry to get me off the phone. They say someone will be there in about 20 minutes. 20 minutes later no one is here, so I call a different dispatcher. They say someone will be there in 15 minutes. After about 40 minutes a cab pulls up. The driver is miffed about having to leave Center City to come into Fishtown. The car is an old Crown Victoria and dirty. It’s hot as hell in here, but the driver has the windows down. The driver is talking to someone on his bluetooth headset in a different language.]

“Hey man, do you mind if we turn on the AC? I’m roasting back here…” I ask the driver. No response. I tap on the glass. The driver looks annoyed that I interrupted his conversation.
“The AC is broken. Where are you going?” he asks me.
“I’m going to Noord in South Philadelphia.” I say.
“How do you get there?” he blurts out.
“I have no idea. I’ll try plugging it into my GPS, I guess.” Shouldn’t someone who drives for a living have their own GPS?
[The driver takes me on some wonky route through town. I’m sweating my butt off back here. I wish this ride would be over soon. Eventually we get there in about 30 minutes, which is longer than my GPS said it would take.]
“I’m going to pay via credit card.”
“The machine is down.”
“I don’t have any cash on me.”
“Let me see if I can fix the machine.”
[Eventually the machine is “fixed” and I pay for my ride, along with a tip. Total cost is $17.97. As I get to the restaurant, I notice that I had left my Kindle in there. I call the cab company, who says they have no way of tracking drivers. After the weekend is over, I can physically visit the PPA in person to see if the driver dropped my Kindle off there. In all likelihood it’s gone for ever.]

Uber provides a service that is more reliable, cheaper, and accountable. Their drivers come to places other than Center City, even the “bad” neighborhoods.

I will never take a cab ever again. There is simply no need to.

Cabs justify their existence through a government mandated monopoly – not providing a superior product. Uber is simply better.

Verdict: Owning a car is no longer necessary

You absolutely do not need to drive a car in Philadelphia anymore. Between UberX and Amazon Prime Pantry, owning a car is a needless luxury.

No more parking tickets. No more designated drivers. No more fender benders. No more vandalism.

And yes, you can take Uber on long trips. I even took an Uber to Firefly, which was a trip from Philadelphia to Dover Delaware. It was cheaper than gas and paying for parking.

I may decide to drop the car in the future. For now, I’ve decided to keep my car but limit the amount I drive.

UberX is the future of modern urban transportation.

4 Responses to Uber is the Future of Urban Transportation – Going Carless in Philly

  1. neildavis2002 says:

    Enjoy it while it lasts Jordan. Uber is great for consumers. However government regulation is not friendly to Uber and may destroy its business model. See here: http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2015/07/09/uber_motion_to_oppose_class_action_lawsuit_over_1099_status_there_is_no.html

    If The courts rule that Uber must classify its drivers as employees instead of contractors, their business model will be ruined and their prices will necessarily skyrocket to account for the added expenses and liabilities associated with having thousands of employees. I hope Uber can win the battles it has ahead of it, but it has a lot of enemies that want to see it go down.

  2. Josh King says:

    Check it out – your anecdotal results, now in data form (study done in low-income LA neighborhoods finds Uber twice as fast, half as expensive as cabs): http://botecanalysis.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/LATS-Final-Report.pdf

  3. Anonymous says:

    Why don’t Uber join forces with the taxis like in New York and add them to the app albeit a fee of course? Let people choose which mode they want commercially insured uber blacks and taxis or no insurance uber x (but lower cost except during surges)?

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