Ride-sharing driver

Ride-sharing apps

Getting from A to B is a lot easier with an app, but which service should you choose?

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The past decade has seen the rise of ride-sharing services, pushed by the popularity of Uber. The model – which uses an app enabling drivers and passengers to interact directly – is simpler, cheaper, and more efficient than the old system of phoning an exchange to request a car.

One of the benefits of ride-share services is you have more information compared to a taxi. You know exactly how far away your ride is (the car is shown on a map in real time), the rough amount you’ll pay (often less than a taxi ride of the same distance), and you can see the route the car is taking (via the app).

Because of the rising popularity of ride-sharing, taxi companies have been trying to emulate their success. In New Zealand, the two ride shares are Zoomy and Uber, while both Green Cabs and Blue Bubble/Co-op Taxis have similar apps (the latter’s app is called ihail).

We tried out all their apps to see how they compared.

How it works

Peer-to-peer ride-sharing services work like this:

  • The app shows available cars in your area.
  • You enter your pick-up point and destination.
  • You’re given an estimate of the trip’s cost, and the fastest route.
  • After agreeing, you’re matched with a driver and given their details. This can include their licence plate number, vehicle make and model, contact information, their name, and a photo.
  • You can cancel the request before they arrive if you’re not happy with the match, but you will have to make another booking and in certain circumstances it can cost you a fee. The driver can also cancel the trip.
  • The driver picks you up. (Note: the driver won’t know your destination until they pick you up.)
  • Payment is made automatically through the app, via credit card.
  • After your trip, you can rate the driver using a five-star system. When you’re matched with a driver, you’re shown their rating. Be aware they can also rate you after a trip.

The taxi companies’ versions are similar, though the payment method is different and so is how the driver finds you. The app you use is tied into the company’s old distribution systems rather than to the driver’s phone (as with Uber and Zoomy). This means they sometimes don’t have GPS, but can take cash or cards if you don’t want to pay through the app.

Downsides

For the most part, the ride-share booking process is fast and efficient. However, there can be issues that throw a spanner in the works.

If there are no drivers in your immediate area, the app widens the search until it matches you with a driver – this means your ride could be one minute away or twenty. This is where taxi companies, and their larger fleets, have the edge.

Of the apps we trialled, only Green Cabs lets you specify if you need to transport a large number of people or a lot of luggage (ride-share cars are required to have four doors and five seat belts, but there are no specifications regarding vehicle size). So, you could have four passengers trying to squeeze into a small four-door hatchback.

Airports are also a challenge. Dropping off is fine, but many airports have banned ride-share drivers from picking up customers. However, these rules are being relaxed. Wellington and Auckland airports have arranged for Uber to have designated pick-up points, with drivers charged the same annual fees as taxis.

The legislation

Legislation, which came into effect last year, brought both app-based ride shares and taxi companies under the same banner of “small passenger services”.

Small passenger service companies must do the following:

  • Ensure all drivers hold a current “P” (passenger) endorsement and a current New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) identification card (displayed on the dashboard).
  • Ensure all drivers comply with work-time and logbook requirements.
  • Ensure all small passenger service vehicles have a Certificate of Fitness.
  • Keep records of these things, as well as any complaints.
  • Report any “serious improper behaviour” by drivers to the NZTA and assist with any enforcement investigations.

Some registered taxi drivers and other professional drivers have signed up to work for ride-share companies, so your driver may already have all their credentials from that job.

What we looked at

In our assessment of the apps, we looked at the ease of booking and paying for a ride. The ideal scenario for the latter is just getting out of the car at the end (after thanking the driver).

The other aspect was how quickly we could find a driver. We took rides to and from the Consumer office in the Wellington CBD out to a residential address in Newtown, a trip of roughly 7km. Our trips were in the middle of the day, when demand wouldn’t be too high, and we alternated the service we used (for example, Green Cab out to Newtown and an Uber back). This ensured there wouldn’t be a driver already waiting in the area.

The apps

Uber

Ease of use: A
Ease of payment: A
Overall grade: A

Locations: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Tauranga, Dunedin, Queenstown

App: Uber’s app is the slickest of the bunch. It’s integrated with Google Maps, meaning the destination search function is fast and accurate (you can also order an Uber from Google Maps.) The accuracy of the car’s location was a little off, meaning sometimes the car had arrived even though the app said it was still en route. The app can also show you the colour of the car coming to pick you up.

Uber has enough drivers that you can regularly get a ride within a few minutes. The longest we had to wait was 10 minutes.

Interestingly, the trip into town was twice almost as expensive ($21) as the trip out ($12). During times of demand, when nearly everyone wants a ride, “surge pricing” kicks in. Surge pricing is a multiplier on your booking. The app informs you when surge pricing is in effect, and how much it is, before you book. For example, a rider may see a surge multiplier of 1.3x or 2.1x on the base amount.

Uber is useful when travelling overseas because it removes the need to find a taxi company or speak the local language. Fire up the app and you’re good to go. However, your Uber account is connected to your phone number, so you can’t use a local SIM when travelling, so you’ll need to be on a roaming data plan.

Uber’s biggest downside is outside the car. Its business practices, various court cases, and scandals have left some consumers (and drivers) cold to the company and looking for alternatives.

Overview: If you have no issues with Uber’s practices, then this is, hands-down, the best ride-share service. The app is simple to use and works well.

Zoomy

Ease of use: B
Ease of payment: A
Overall grade: B

Locations: Auckland, Wellington

App: Zoomy has a good app. It was updated in the middle of our trial, but the user experience didn’t change much. It’s essentially identical to Uber with a few design differences. The app’s geolocation can be a bit off at times, making it difficult if you don’t know your exact pick-up address. Also, the accuracy of the car’s location wasn’t perfect – a couple of times the car was supposed to be on our street but we couldn’t see it.

Payment is done in the same way as Uber, the app automatically charges your credit card at the end of the trip. You can get into the car, take the ride and then just get out and walk away; no mucking about with payment systems. You don’t even need to take your phone out.

Both systems also allow you to gift a ride, meaning you can send a car to pick up someone else and pay for it via your app.

The main downside is Zoomy’s lack of drivers. In Wellington, it doesn’t have the critical mass yet to ensure the availability of a car at any given time, especially outside the CBD. We waited 15 minutes for a ride on a few occasions and more than once were unable to find any drivers at all.

Overview: Zoomy is the local equivalent to Uber. Though the lack of drivers and the occasional glitch puts Zoomy behind Uber, if you want to support a Kiwi ride-share it’s your best option.

Green Cabs

Ease of use: B
Ease of payment: C
Overall grade: D

Locations: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown.

App: The Green Cab app is almost exactly like a ride-share app. It pinpointed our location on the map and showed cars in the area. It also showed the driver on its way to us. However, it was far from perfect.

Oddly, the app assumes your destination is the same as where you’re being picked up from. The booking page required a lot of input, including having to change from the default “pay with cash” option (just like a normal taxi ride) to your credit card. On the flip side, the options allow you to specify the number of passengers and any luggage you have. You can even book an electric car.

Stored credit cards don’t automatically charge. The driver has to send through the charge, then you get a notification on your phone, which you have to authorise. It takes a long time, more so if you’re in a place with spotty mobile coverage. It also means you can’t just get out of the car and walk away. Paying with cash or card may be quicker, but defeats the purpose of having the app.

Green Cabs’ large fleet of cabs means you can get a ride fairly quickly.

Overview: If you like the simplicity of a ride-share but, for whatever reason, prefer a traditional taxi company, then the Green Cabs’ app is OK.

ihail

Ease of use: C
Ease of payment: E
Overall grade: F

Locations: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Tauranga, Hawke’s Bay, Dunedin, Palmerston North, Nelson, Rotorua, Whangarei, New Plymouth, Taupo.

App: In New Zealand, ihail is used by with Blue Bubble/Co-op taxis and replaces its old app. Though ihail is used by taxi companies in several countries (UK, USA, Australia, and Canada), it leaves a lot to be desired.

The app puts your ride request through the taxi company and it’s sent to drivers, bypassing the usual dispatcher. The app has GPS so you can see where your driver is, even though they only have a written address to find you. This meant on one occasion the driver couldn’t find the residential address for the pick-up and even turned into the wrong driveway.

Paying is also complicated. Despite loading credit card details and specifying that we’d pay for the ride via the app, the driver asked for payment as usual. The driver then had to load all the details into his computer, including a code generated by the app. The process took almost twice as long as paying via card or cash and incurred a small fee (which the driver added without initially explaining).

Using the ihail app made everything more difficult, to the point where we reckon using the old system of ringing the call centre would have been easier.

The only good thing about using ihail is that there are a lot of Blue cabs on the streets, so you’ll always get a ride, and you can use it in the countries mentioned above – though we doubt it’s any better overseas.

Overview: The only thing we’d recommend this app for is if you don’t want to listen to the cab company’s hold music on the phone. Other than that, it’s rubbish.


By Hadyn Green
Technology Writer