DAY 11: If things get ugly, we call Uber

Want to go car-free? For some, Uber makes it possible and economical.

When we told friends that we were going carless, most assumed that we would take Uber everywhere. But that’s not the cowboy way. Our primary transportation tools are feet, bicycles and METRO buses and rail. Uber is our backup.

Last man to discover Uber?

Last week I wrote about introducing a friend to Uber. It’s possible he was the last Houstonian to discover Uber. But if you too have managed to avoid the ride-hailing giant, stop resisting. Someday you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren that you rode in an Uber vehicle driven by a human.

It’s über easy

Download and install the Uber app on your smartphone and enter your credit card information. Once you’re registered and have your GPS tracking enabled, you’ll see your current location.

For demonstration only. Not my screen.

You’re the blue dot. As I write this, five Uber cars are hovering nearby. I see moving car icons, indicating their locations. All I need to do now is enter my destination and number of passengers, then request the type of Uber vehicle I want.

Because Stephanie and I were raised by Great Depression-era parents, we’re only allowed to use Uber X, the cheapest service. An UberX vehicle seats four passengers. An UberXL vehicle seats six passengers. Typically, these are SUVs and minivans. XL costs more than an UberX. Then there’s UberSelect, the entry-level luxury service that seats up to four registered Republicans.

Apparently, there’s also something called UberBLACK, the real luxury service. This option does not show on my phone. I assume that Uber has looked at our credit score and purchasing habits and deemed us unfit. I take no offense.

Get ready for ‘surge pricing’

Our first Uber ride took place in New York City. That’s where we learned about “surge pricing,” which, according to an article this week in the New York Times, is the only way an Uber driver can make a decent living. In our Friday evening rush hour ride in NYC, an Uber ride cost us about $30. The return ride several hours later cost $10.

The good news is you can see the rates you’ll be charged before you summon a car. That way you can do a cost-benefit analysis, reflect on your personal worthiness and come to a well-thought-out decision.

Economics of going full-on Uber

Ditch your car and save money? Kyle Hill says the costs of owning a car and the costs of using UberX are exactly the same if you drive 9,481 miles yearly.

Should you give up your car and use Uber exclusively? If you drive less than 9,500 miles a year, you can probably use a ride-hailing service like Uber and save money.

That’s according to a 2014 article from Kyle Hill, who could be a Russian hacker. Still, he went to a lot of work and has a high Google search ranking, and that’s good enough for me. This is all you can reasonably expect from citizen journalism.

One last thing. Listen to how automakers are repositioning themselves as transportation companies or technology companies. Uber is one of the reasons. According to David Humes, author of “Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation,” every car added to ride-hailing fleets like Uber leads to thirty-two fewer car sales.

Apparently, what’s good for Uber is not good for General Motors.

Photo credits: Look at my hands! That’s disgusting! by Franck MichelSave Money On Gas 1 by, licensed under CC 2.0


  1. OK, I finally get it. If I am to serve as an example of paleo-Houstonians in Paul’s blog, so be it. There is one thing, however, that I want to clarify — I can’t recall the two of us ever discussing the question of Amish underwear. Although I am, in fact, interested in the topic, I’m not even sure that it exists. While visiting an Amish shopping mall outside Lancaster PA a few years ago I noticed that they sold what were called “drop front pants.” These feature a large buttoned panel in front that can be unfastened in the event the wearer needs to… well, you get the picture.

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