2014-07-13

My First Day With Uber Beirut

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When I set off to write this post, it was meant to be called "My First Ride with Uber Beirut". However, I chose to rename it for the purpose of fairness and giving credit where credit was due, since I managed to squeeze in two rides on the same afternoon/evening with two very different experiences.

Some of you who follow me on Twitter might have noticed that I immediately reached out to Uber Beirut upon news of their launch. I am a big fan of the hailing app concept and have had the chance to try several apps in several countries starting with Romania.

Uber however is not just any app, and regardless of any controversy that you might have heard, these guys have an excellent business model that is spreading like wildfire and I can totally understand why:
What's not to like about the promise of ordering a timely, elegant transport with a courteous driver and a friction-less payment method from the comfort of your smartphone?

My First Ride in Beirut...Uber-Lebanese

I set out heading from Badaro to LAU Beirut on Saturday (2014-07-12), and placed my order at 18:53. Surely enough, I was notified that the driver would be arriving within 4 minutes. So far so good, but 4 minutes later with no car in sight, I followed up with a short text to the driver indicating exactly where I would wait for him, to avoid any confusion.
From there on, things went downhill. It took the driver 32 minutes to reach me. I was seriously panicking that I would not be able to make it on time to LAU.
I called the driver to inquire how close he was as the car seemed lost in a maze of streets in Achrafieh. He assured me he was close to the museum but what I was seeing in front of me suggested something else. I then finally spotted him coming towards me but stopping to ask for direction, so I called him again. He saw me also and hung up as he pulled up.

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As you see from the info above, I was off to a bad start, and had less than 30 minutes to get to my destination. Doors were to close at 19:45 at LAU. As I got into the car I was surprised again that the driver was not familiar with the area and did not know how to make up for lost time to make it there, so I co-piloted and navigated him through my usual road.
I must, however, in all due conscience, say that he seemed really apologetic and stressed that he had been so late and he was really helpful and courteous through the ride, adjusting the cooling and proposing me a drink of water since he saw I had been sweltering in the heat for 30 minutes. He also did his best to get me to my destination on time. I eventually made it on time  and got off just 15 meters away from the lower gate although he proposed to drive me exactly there. I did not want us to get caught in the Koraytem road maze.

I was left perplex on what to make of this experience. On one hand, I had waited in the heat for half an hour and lost my chance for a decent seating at the event, on the other, the vehicle and the driver were up to my expectation in terms of quality and behavior.
I still do not want to categorically draw any conclusions and perhaps traffic was hard on the way to Badaro from Abdel Wahab Street although on a Saturday afternoon in summer, Beirut is usually traffic free.

Uber Redeemed by Abbas

After the ceremony in LAU had finished, we decided to grab a bite at the nearby Deek Duke restaurant (Google Map). I wanted to try again taking Uber. My girlfriend had ordered a ride a few hours before me that day and was extremely satisfied. So I opened the app, GPS blasting, and placed an order. A car was assigned to us a few minutes away. I then monitor the driver skillfully avoiding congested roads to make it on time and arriving at the marker that was supposed to represent our location.
However, as we look around, there was no car anywhere near.
I immediately call the driver, and we quickly realize the app had placed us in Bliss not in Hamra. I bare a lot of the responsibility this time as I did not really zoom in and look at the pin.
However, he reassured me he had understood where we actually were, and sure enough, a few minutes later a sparkling new BMW Series 5 pulls up.
A neatly dressed driver disembarks, introduces himself as Abbas, opening the door for us.
Once in the car, he apologizes once more (although he was not to blame for a faulty GPS location in the app) and asks if the air conditioning setting was to our liking and we were comfortably seated. The rest of our drive home was smooth as can be and upon our arrival we got the same royal treatment as when we boarded the vehicle.

Final Thoughts

Sure, some of you will say I am being tough on the first driver and the company, and that a normal Taxi will have lied and weaseled its way out of this, and even not shown up at all.
But you know what? This is NOT a random taxi company managed by some fat-bellied, sweat-dripping, flip-flop wearing driver. I based my expectations on the reputation of what is the fastest growing company in this field. Just consider this: Uber had recently been seeking $12 Billion valuation in its latest funding round

In the entire commotion I had not noticed that I had received a mail follow up. Uber had reacted to the rating of the first drive that I had input on the app even before I got to write this blog post and reacted by giving me a 5$ coupon on the spot. I think this is just one facet of how professional these people are. I also think the driver which I had the unfortunate experience with, has the potential of being an excellent driver as he gets more used to the roads and the process as a whole.
Uber did warn us this was a sort of a "beta" release. Therefore, I will cut them some slack in that area but above all I will thank them for one of the best rides home I have had in a very long time.

Regular Lebanese taxi providers are still in a slumber, but they better wake up really fast and get up to speed with the century. They are about to be heavily outclassed and I honestly do not think they can do anything about it, especially those among them with new fleets and cocky attitudes.