Ride-sharing driver

Ride-sharing

Uber’s rise has shaken up the global taxi market. Its model, which uses an app enabling drivers and passengers to interact directly, is simpler and more efficient than the old system of phoning an exchange to request a car.

While there’s no doubting Uber’s usefulness, the company’s policies have left some consumers looking for alternatives. In New Zealand, the main alternative ride-sharing choice is Zoomy. In an attempt to keep up with ride-shares, taxi companies Green Cabs and Blue Bubble/Co-op Taxis both have apps.

We tried out the Uber, Zoomy and Blue Bubble app in Auckland, and the Green Cab app in Wellington, to see how they stacked up.

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How it works

Ride-share services work like this:

  • A dedicated app shows available cars in your area.
  • You enter your pick-up point and destination (sometimes autocompleted via mapping software).
  • 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 details, 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. 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.

One of the benefits of ride-share services is you have more information compared to a traditional 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). Your request is also matched to the nearest available driver, so there’s no waiting while a driver comes from all the way across town.

After your trip, you can rate the driver using a five-star system. When you are matched to a driver, you’re shown their rating. Be aware they can also rate you after a trip.

The ride-share booking process is fast and efficient, but it does have drawbacks. Some of the apps we tried can’t specify if you need to transport a large number of people or if you have a lot of luggage (cars are required to have four doors and five seat belts, but there are no specifications regarding vehicle size). So, you could have five people trying to squeeze into a small four-door hatchback.

Airports are also a challenge. While most airports have banned ride-share drivers from picking customers up, Wellington Airport has a deal with Uber for a designated pick-up/drop-off area.

Ride-sharing legislation

Under new legislation coming into effect in October 2017, both ride shares and taxi companies will be regulated as “small passenger services”.

Small passenger service companies must:

  • ensure all drivers hold a current “P” (passenger) endorsement and a current New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) identification card
  • 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 did

We took trips around Auckland using Uber, Zoomy and Blue Bubble Taxis (all booked via their apps). Where possible, we took one service one way and another service on the return trip. This gave us an overall picture of how well the app worked and how good the service was.

Uber

Locations: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch

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 the car had often arrived even though the app said it was still en route. The app requires permission to know your location even when you aren’t using it.

During times of demand, “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 local taxi company.

Uber’s biggest downside is outside the car. Their business practices, various court cases, and scandals have left some consumers 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

Locations: Auckland, Wellington

App: Zoomy has a good app. It’s essentially the same as Uber’s, but with a bright blue-and-yellow colour scheme and chunkier design, which makes it feel less well made. 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 my street but I couldn’t see it.

The default information about your ride doesn’t include the number plate (you have to press an extra button to see it). Zoomy has fewer cars on the road, so it can take longer to get a ride.

Rather than create their own app, Corporate Cabs have partnered with Zoomy in Auckland, you can specify which service you want when you book.

Overview: “Zoomy” is the answer to: “is there a local equivalent to Uber?” It still has a little way to go before its app looks and works as well as Uber’s, but it’s not bad.

Green Cabs

Locations: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown, Dunedin

App: The Green Cab app is closer to a typical ride share app. It pinpointed my location on the map and showed cars in the area. It also showed the car on its way to me. But it was far from perfect. I had issues finding addresses, even when typing them in.

The booking page required a lot of input, including having to change from the default “pay with cash” option (you pay the driver when you arrive at your destination).

Stored credit cards don’t automatically charge. The driver has to send through the charge, then you get a notification on your phone, which allows you to authorise the payment. It takes a long time, especially if you’re in place with spotty mobile coverage.

Since our review, Green Cabs have added fare estimates to their app. You can also book a fully electric vehicle if one is available.

Overview: If you like the simplicity of a ride share app but prefer a traditional taxi company, then the Green Cab’s is the best thing to use.

Blue Bubble

Locations: 16 cities

App: This app is glitchy and painful to use. The map doesn’t show available cars before you book, and it doesn’t show where your ride is. It alerts you a car is on its way, but not when it has arrived (in one case, the car was waiting outside and the dispatch centre had to phone me to let me know). Moreover, the app doesn’t tell you the number plate, only the taxi number.

I loaded credit card details into the app but, when I went to book a ride, it asked me for a PIN. I hadn’t set a PIN at any point, so the app never let me use the automated payment system. Finally, the app logged me out and refused to let me back in until I reset my password.

The idea of having an app to order and pay for your ride is that it’s supposed to make the whole process easier. Using the Blue Bubble app made everything more difficult, to the point where I realised the old system of ringing the call centre was better.

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


By Hadyn Green
Technology Writer