What Is Uber? Your Complete Guide To This Rideshare Service

Using Uber is great. There’s nothing better than pressing a button and having a reliable ride magically show up.

But what if you’re new to the app and don’t know how it works? Unlike typical taxi services, pulling out your phone and taking a ride in a stranger’s car seems weird at first….

…. but once you try Uber, you’ll never go back.

Today we’re going to dive into the questions every new Uber user wonders:

  • What is Uber?
  • How does Uber work?
  • PLUS… the difference between each type.

Note: We are publishing this as a comprehensive guide for new Uber riders. We’ll update the post to include new functionality and features as they are released.


How Does Uber Work? A Brief Introduction

Uber isn’t a typical transportation company; they don’t own their own vehicles and they don’t manage fleets. According to their website, “Uber is a technology platform. Our smartphone apps connect driver-partners and riders”.

And boy, do they make that connection simple.

At first, it may seem like a foreign, super-confusing concept, but once you dive into the details, using Uber is insanely easy. 

Open your phone, request a ride, and boom… the ride you requested shows up just a few minutes later. Yes, it really is that easy.

Uber’s main goal is to provide affordable private transportation so simple that anybody can use the app.

Whether you’re a seasoned business traveler, a college student looking for a ride to class, or just a Regular Joe out on the town with a group of friends, Uber has your back.

Here’s a simple breakdown of how it works:

Before you can enjoy using Uber’s services to call your own private driver, you have to download and install the app on your smartphone. The Uber rider app is available from the following places:

Once downloaded, open the app and proceed to the following steps:

  1. Sign up to create an account. For first time users, Uber gives out a free ride worth $15 when you use a promo code.
  2. Next, open the app and login with your username and password.
  3. Set up your payment method by saving your credit card or linking your PayPal account. But, you can also choose to pay in cash. (Note: Uber will only charge you when you ride.)
  4. Once your account has been set up, you can now start booking your ride.

Here’s how to book for one:

  1. Select your pickup location. It can either be where you are now, or another location, if you are booking for another person.
  2. Select your drop-off point or destination.
  3. Once you have keyed in your location, choose your ride. Uber has a variety of car options for you to choose from:
  4. After choosing your ride, complete your request by tapping ‘Confirm’. Voila! Your Uber driver will then be on their way to pick you up. You will receive a notification through the app once your driver has arrived at your pickup location.

Is Uber Safe?

Listen, rider safety was the first thing that came to mind when I first started using Uber. Getting into a stranger’s car and trusting them to drive you to the requested location kind of scared me a bit.

But once I started using Uber, I realized that there’s actually quite a bit that goes on behind the scenes to keep riders and drivers safe.

After a driver signs up to drive for the platform, Uber commences a pretty heavy vetting process for each driver. This includes background checks, vehicle inspections, and much more to ensure that both the driver and vehicle comply with the rules set by Uber. Those with any previous criminal history or serious driving violations are disqualified from driving.

Here are a few of the ways Uber keeps riders safe:

Safe Pickups

The Uber app works off GPS, meaning the rider’s location is known and accurate. The app will automatically find your location and direct a driver your way, even if you don’t know where you are.

No Discrimination

The Uber rider app shows minimal rider details, meaning drivers cannot decline a ride request based on gender, race, or destination. Uber makes a big deal about this, which is great for rider safety.

Driver Profiles

Every driver has their own profile, complete with details about them and their vehicle. Information includes name, license plate number, phone, and rating, so you can ensure the correct vehicle is picking you up before you hop in.

Rating System

Unlike a taxi cab where you just get in and go, Uber keeps drivers accountable and holds them to a higher standard than other modes of transportation. Uber offers the chance for riders to rate their drivers, which helps keep drivers on their best behavior. If they are unsafe, rude, or display behavior undesirable to passengers, the passenger has the ability to give the driver a low rating, and they won’t be matched for future rides.

24/7 Support

Uber is safe for riders before, during and after a trip, and riders can rest assured knowing there is an entire team at Uber customer service standing behind them. This team is available 24/7, and can be contacted for any issues, including general questions, safety issues, or even lost items.

While the news likes to highlight the rare stories from rogue Uber drivers, you have to keep in mind that there are millions of Uber drivers all over the world, working 24/7. Its virtually guaranteed that one of them will eventually do something newsworthy, but for the most part, Uber is incredibly safe.


Uber Payment

Uber makes payment easy and conducts these payments directly through the rider app.

Riders must enter a valid credit/debit card, which will automatically be charged upon completion of a ride.

Riders can add multiple payment methods, and then select which one they would like to pay for the ride with.

Future payment methods that are supposedly in the works include Bitcoin, Apple Pay, and a few others. Until then, riders will have to use a credit card.


The Convenience Of Using Uber As A Taxi Alternative

Uber is one of the first “on-demand” services that operate on a smartphone platform.

Founded about 8 years ago, Uber has cemented itself as the go-to player in the rideshare game. Other competitors are doing their part to upend Uber’s position, but Uber still dominates the game.

Commuters prefer Uber service over taxi drivers for a number of reasons. First, Uber’s booking process is incredibly convenient. Instead of passengers having to flag down a traditional cab on the street, they are able to book from their smartphone app. Once booked, you have the option to pay with cash or the credit card associated with your account. Because Uber estimates the cost of the ride before beginning the trip, it’s often faster than taking a taxi. Riders are looking for a stress-free experience and often choose Uber due to the cost, speed, and reliability.

Uber is a car service accessible only through the application.  To be able to use its services, you need to have the Uber app installed in a compatible smartphone with internet connection and GPS capabilities. The app connects the rider to nearby drivers based on the location provided.

The only (potential) downside to using Uber as a rider is SURGE pricing. With SURGE pricing, one pricing of rides will increase during popular driving times. In other words, an Uber ride to meet up with friends could potentially cost twice as much as your Uber ride home that night.

Looking for other ridesharing alternatives? Sign up for Lyft with one of our promo codes to get your first ride free!


Different Uber Vehicle Types

We’ve talked about what Uber is, now let’s talk about the various types of service levels available to riders.

What is uberX?

uberX is the flagship of the Uber brand.  It’s the lowest-priced service that everyone thinks of when they think of Uber.

uberX cars promise four seats for passengers and they are typically low-cost sedans like the Toyota Prius or Honda Accord. Many uberX drivers will provide a few extras like bottles of water and sometimes possibly light snacks.

Uber generally requires that these cars be no more than 10 years old, but in some cases it’s up to 15 years old. Year requirements on this vehicle type will vary by market.

Typical uberX cars:

  • Dodge Charger
  • Toyota Prius
  • Toyota Camry
  • Kia Sorento & Optima
  • Hyundai Sonata
  • Nissan Maxima

PROS

  • uberX is very cheap!
  • uberX cars are ubiquitous. They are everywhere.  Almost no matter where you are in the country (or in the world for that matter) an uberX car is usually just around the corner.  Or, many times they’re already on your block!  So you never have to wait long for one to show up.

CONS

  • It’s very cheap.

I know this was a “pro” as well, and you may be wondering how ‘cheap’ could be a con.  It’s because, in the end, you get what you pay for.

In most markets around the country, drivers barely make 70 cents a mile when they have a passenger in the car.  But they drive roughly twice as many miles total as they drive when a passenger is actually in the car.  If they drive 100 passenger miles, they’ll normally drive around 200 miles total.

That’s the mileage they drive empty, when they’re enroute to pick a passenger up or after they drop someone off and they’re headed back to the busy areas of town. In the end, they’re making roughly $0.35 for every mile they drive.

This is just a little over half what the IRS estimates is a driver’s true cost.  In 2018, the IRS standard mileage deduction is 54.5 cents per mile.  In other words, these drivers are losing money on every mile they drive. Whether they feel that or not at the start doesn’t matter.

The fact is, they are losing money and eventually it will catch up with them.  Usually in the form of some expensive car repair or routine maintenance that they put off because they can’t afford to do it right now. When that happens, passengers are riding around in a less than safe car.

If they have to replace tires, that can run up to $800-$1,000.  This means they would have to drive nearly 3,000 miles while working for Uber to come up with the $800 – $1,000!

And you can guess about how long it would take to drive that many miles in an urban environment with city traffic and all.  In the meantime, they’re putting off getting the new tires as long as possible, and you’re riding around in a car with worn and unsafe tires.

  • uberX Drivers may or may not be insured by commercial insurance, meaning that it could be a huge hassle for you to collect if your driver gets into an accident.
  • uberX Drivers are not commercially or professionally licensed by the state, city or any governmental body. They only go through the minimal background check provided by Uber.  They aren’t fingerprinted or put through the more rigorous background checks that states and cities normally do.
  • Over time, uberX cars have become significantly worse in quality. Since it doesn’t make sense for drivers to pay much money to buy a car for Ubering, more and more drivers are turning to used cars.  And it shows.  You’re much more likely now to get into an uberX car that has a few dents than you were a few years ago when uberX prices were more than twice what they are today.
  • Because of the low pay and extremely rough working conditions, fewer uberX drivers seem to take pride in their work. That’s likely to show up in how they dress and how they treat you.  And because of the low rates they’re paid, they have very little patience for anything a passenger might do that they may consider to be a waste of time.
  • As far as luggage with uberX – the uberX cars can comfortably carry two mid to large size suitcases. But, that’s about it on luggage.  If you have much more luggage than that you’d be better off calling an uberXL car.

What is uberPOOL?

uberPOOL is exactly the same as uberX – except you may share the ride with other passengers.  You’ll get the same drivers and the same cars that you get with uberX.  Except the price will be a little cheaper.

uberPOOL is like a carpool service.  When you call an uberPOOL, you’ll be picked up and if you’re the first passenger in the car, there’s a good chance they’ll pick somebody else up along the way.  They may drop the second person off before you as well, depending on what the best route is between their pickup point and both of your destinations.

While the other person is in the car you both will pay a little more than half the cost of the ride but less than 100% – netting Uber a windfall.  Uber gets a windfall because they don’t pay the driver any more than what they normally pay for the time and distance.  This frustrates drivers because uberPOOL trips are a lot more difficult to drive and they feel they should get paid a little more for it – especially since Uber is charging more.  So you can expect a frustrated driver often times.

uberX vs uberPOOL – there are really only two differences.  The cars and drivers are exactly the same.  The differences are that uberPOOL is lower priced because you’ll potentially share the ride with another passenger.  So your trip will be cheaper but it may take a lot longer.

Typical uberPOOL cars are exactly the same as the uberX cars listed above.

PROS

  • Same as the pros above for uberX – except that it’s even cheaper than uberX

CONS

  • Same as the cons above for uberX – with the additional con that your trip may take a lot longer than desired. We recommend only using XL when you really need to save a few bucks and when you have plenty of time.
  • There is apparently no limit on the number of pickups a driver may do while you’re still in the car enroute to your location. That means after you get in, another passenger may be picked up and dropped off.  And then there might be yet another pickup from that location to your destination!  You never know.

What is uberXL?

uberXL is pretty much what it sounds like.  It’s an extra large uberX.  It’s the downscale version of the luxury uberSUV.  They’re good for when you have more than four people and less than seven or when you have a lot of baggage or cargo.  uberXL prices are generally 1.5x higher than uberX.  uberXLs are generally minivans or low-end SUVs.

Typical uberXL cars

  • Kia Sorrento
  • Toyota Highlander
  • Toyota Sienna
  • Dodge Grand Caravan
  • Chevrolet Traverse
  • Ford Explorer
  • Hyundai Santa Fe

Pros

  • XLs are SUV sized vehicles that give you plenty of room for lots of baggage and other cargo. They’re perfect for airport trips
  • They give you two more seats than the four seats you get in an X car. So when you’re out with a large group of people, call an XL and you’ll be able to comfortably fit everyone in the same car.

Cons

  • They’re a little pricier than uberX – but not too much – especially considering uberX’s super low rates.
  • The same cons that apply to uberX about licensing and background checks apply to XL
  • The same cons that apply to uberX about low driver pay also apply to XL because most XL drivers spend most of their time taking lower-paying X trips.

What is uberSELECT?

uberSELECT is a slightly lower-priced version from the luxury uberBLACK.  Rates are generally 2.5x higher than uberX but about 1.5x lower than uberBLACK.

Your uberSELECT driver will show up in a 4-passenger luxury vehicle.  Uber requires that SELECT cars be somewhat newer than uberX cars, but the exact age differs by market.  Generally they will be less than ten years old though.

Typical uberSELECT cars

  • Acura RDX/MDX/TLX+
  • Kia K900
  • Audi A3/Q3/S4/A6/Q7+
  • BMW 5 Series & 7 Series
  • Cadillac CTS, Escalade, SRX+
  • Hyundai Genesis Sedan
  • Infiniti EX/FX/QX/Q50+

PROS

  • You get a slightly lower end luxury car than uberBLACK at a lower price. Prices vary by market but are generally 1.4x-1.5x less than uberBLACK and 2.6x more than uberX. It’s basically like getting uberBLACK for a lower price.

CONS

  • uberSELECT drivers, like X and XL drivers, do not have to be professionally licensed, they are not required to carry commercial insurance and they do not get city or state background checks.
  • uberSELECT is not offered in all markets.

What is uberBLACK?

uberBLACK, ironically, was Uber’s very first service.  Now, it’s all but lost in the shadows of the ubiquitous uberX.  But uberBLACK shouldn’t be overlooked as a viable transportation option.

There are times when you need a nicer more upscale ride.  Like when you’re wining and dining a big client.  Or when you’re going all out on a big night on the town for your special someone!  There are just times when you need a more luxurious ride.

But there are other practical considerations that go largely unnoticed.  uberBLACK and uberSUV levels of service are the only levels of Uber services where the drivers and cars are required by Uber to be 100% commercially insured and where the drivers are fingerprinted and have state or city background checks.

uberX vs uberBLACK – Like uberX, uberBLACK will seat four passengers.  But, uberBLACK is a high-end luxury vehicle.  The cars are usually a little roomier for both passengers and luggage than uberX cars.

Typical uberBLACK cars

BMW 5-Series & 7-Series.
Mercedes S/G/GL/GLC-Class +
Volvo XC90
Infiniti Q70
Lexus ES350
Audi A6, A7, A8 & more
Hyundai Genesis
Jaguar XF/XJ

PROS

  • The cars are beautiful and luxurious! If you just can’t stand to ride around like everybody else and you demand something a little nicer and more upscale, uberBLACK is the way to go.
  • In addition to being guaranteed a luxury vehicle, you’re also guaranteed a highly-rated driver. Uber currently requires that BLACK drivers maintain at least a 4.80 passenger rating.  And there has been talk that they may raise that to 4.85 sometime later this year.
  • It’s more expensive! Yes, that’s a pro (and a con).  It’s a pro because it means drivers can earn enough money per mile that they can more easily afford to keep their car well-maintained.  They can also afford the high-priced commercial insurance, which will protect you in case they get into an accident.
  • Drivers are professionally licensed and fingerprinted by local governmental bodies. This provides a more thorough background check and a higher degree of security than Uber’s own internal background checks.

CONS

  • It’s more expensive. In most markets it’s roughly two to three times as much as uberX.  However, it should be noted that the uberX rates are so incredibly low that that uberBLACK prices come in just a little bit higher than what taxi prices have traditionally been.  So it’s like getting a guaranteed luxury car with a top-rated driver for just a little more than you would have paid for a taxi a few years ago.  And in most markets the uberBLACK prices are the same or lower as uberX prices were when they first came into the market.

What is uberSUV?

uberSUV is just what it says.  It’s an SUV.  But, unlike uberXL – it’s a luxury SUV!  uberSUVs are the most expensive class of Ubers you can take in most cities.  However, a small number of cities have another service called uberLUX and uberLUX is actually even more expensive than uberSUV!

uberSUV drivers are allowed to also take calls for uberBLACK so if you order an uberBLACK you might end up with an uberSUV (at the slightly lower BLACK rates).  But if you must have an SUV, you should specifically order one or you might end up with a sedan.

uberSUVs are great for either large parties or when you have lots of luggage.  And there are some people who just prefer the luxury SUV to all other Uber services.

Typical uberSUV vehicles

Cadillac Escalade
Chevrolet Suburban
Lincoln Navigator
GMC Yukon XL
Infiniti QX80
Mercedes GL-Class
Lexus LX

PROS

  • uberSUV drivers are fully licensed professional drivers and commercially insured. They also go through rigorous city or state background checks that normally include fingerprinting.
  • The SUVs are luxury SUVs and very comfortable.
  • You can take up to six passengers and there is room for lots of luggage or cargo.
  • Drivers must maintain at least a 4.80 average passenger rating

CONS

  • uberSUV is normally the top of the line most expensive service Uber offers.
  • Some passengers have expressed annoyance that they get an uberSUV when they order an uberBLACK. They say they prefer a sedan and don’t care for the large SUVs.