What Is Uber? A Guide to How Uber Works, Safety, Services, and More

Uber is a ride-hailing smartphone app that connects riders with drivers. As one of the first “on-demand” services to operate on a smartphone platform, Uber has cemented itself as the leader in the rideshare market (with Lyft solidly in second place). For passengers, it’s a way to to get reliable rides with a private driver. For drivers, Uber provides an opportunity to make extra income.

Since its inception in California in 2009, Uber has grown to more than 41.8 million Uber users in the U.S. alone and 75 million worldwide (updated December 2018), spread across 789 cities in over 84 countries.

If you’re new to ridesharing and don’t know how Uber works, read on this handy, in-depth guide covering this app and its functions.

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How Does Uber Work?

Uber isn’t a typical transportation company; they don’t own their own vehicles and they don’t manage fleets. Uber works by relying on drivers (independent contractors) with their own vehicles. Uber just provides the technology to connect a customer with a driver.

According to their website, “Uber is a technology platform. Our smartphone apps connect driver-partners and riders.”

Using Uber is insanely easy. Open your phone, request a ride, and boom: The ride you requested shows up just a few minutes later. All transactions are handled directly through the app, meaning no cash exchanges hands. 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:

After you’ve installed the app, here are the steps to take:

  1. Create an Uber account. We recommend using a promo code to get free credits towards your first ride.
  2. Set up your preferred payment method.

Once your account is set up, you can now start booking your ride. Here’s how:

  1. Enter your pickup location.
  2. Enter your destination.
  3. Choose your service type (the app will show a fare estimate before you book):
  4. Tap “Confirm” to complete the request.

The app will send your request to all Uber partners nearby. Once matched, the app will provide you with information about the vehicle (Uber car make, model, license plate number), and the driver (name, photo) assigned to your trip. You will also be able to see how far away the driver is from your pickup location.

Is Uber Safe?

There’s a lot that Uber does to ensure the safety of riders and driver partners.

After a driver signs up to the platform, Uber conducts a rigorous vetting process, which includes background checks, training, and vehicle inspections. This ensures that both the driver and the vehicle comply with the rules set by Uber. Drivers need to have insurance and an American driver’s license. Those with a previous criminal record or serious driving violations are disqualified from driving. In general, the rules are pretty similar to those in place for taxi drivers (and Lyft drivers).

Here are a few more ways Uber keeps riders safe:

Safe Pickups

The Uber app works off GPS. The app will automatically find your location and direct a nearby driver your way, even if you don’t know your exact address.

No Discrimination

Uber driver app shows minimal rider details, so drivers cannot decline a ride request based on gender, race, or destination.

Driver Profiles

Every driver has a profile 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. This information also helps if you left something behind in the vehicle and need to contact the driver again.

Share Your ETA

Once your ride begins, you can share your ETA and route with friends and families so they know where you are and when to expect you. You also will be able to follow your trip in real-time. In UberPOOL, you will always know who you share your ride with since every rider has to create an account with their basic details.

Driver Ratings System

Uber keeps drivers accountable with their star rating system. If a driver comes across as unsafe, rude, or displays undesirable behavior, you have the ability to give them a low rating and provide anonymous feedback on your poor Uber experience. Uber employees will review this, and that driver won’t be matched with you for future rides.

Note that if a serious incident occurs involving a driver (sexual harassment, criminal activity, etc.) you can call a special Uber phone number to get priority assistance (once you’ve contacted local law enforcement).

24/7 Support

Riders can rest assured knowing there is an entire team standing behind them 24/7. There are many ways to contact Uber to report any issues, including general questions, safety issues, or even lost items.

While the news likes to highlight the rare stories from rogue Uber drivers, know that there are millions of Uber drivers all over the world working 24/7. It’s likely that even with the best safety measures in place, at least one of them will eventually do something newsworthy. But for the most part, Uber is safe.

Uber Payment

What Is Uber? A Guide to How Uber Works, Safety, Services, and More

To make a payment, riders must enter a valid debit card or credit card that will automatically be charged upon completion of a ride. Riders can add multiple payment methods, and then select one of them as a default choice.

Different Uber Vehicle Types

Let’s now look at the various types of car services Uber provides its riders. If you’re looking for an extremely detailed breakdown, check out this guide on the different types of Uber vehicles.

What Is UberX?

What Is Uber? A Guide to How Uber Works, Safety, Services, and More - UberX

As the flagship service of the Uber brand, UberX is its most affordable and heavily used service level.

UberX cars are low-cost sedans that seat up to 4 passengers. Many UberX drivers will provide a few extras like bottles of water, light snacks, and phone chargers.

Uber requires that these cars be no more than 10–15 years old. Specific 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 to Using Uber X

  • UberX is very affordable.
  • UberX cars are everywhere. Whether you are in the New York, San Francisco, Seattle, London, or anywhere else in the world where Uber operates, an UberX car is usually just around the corner.

Cons to Using UberX

  • Surge Pricing can increase the fares.
  • Since the driver earnings from UberX are low, many delay spending money on routine vehicle maintenance.
  • UberX drivers may not have commercial insurance which makes it hard to claim insurance in the event of an accident.
  • UberX drivers are not commercially licensed by the state, city or any governmental body. They only go through the background check provided by Uber. They aren’t fingerprinted or put through the more stringent background checks that state and city taxi laws require. This applies to most of Uber’s other service types.
  • The UberX cars can only comfortably carry two mid- to large-sized suitcases. If you have bigger luggage than that you’d be better off calling an UberXL car.

What Is UberPOOL?

UberPOOL lets you share your rides and split the fare with other passengers heading the same direction as you. The price is even lower than UberX.

What Is Uber? A Guide to How Uber Works, Safety, Services, and More - UberPOOL

If you’re the first passenger in your UberPOOL ride, chances are somebody else will be picked up along the way. They may drop the second person off before you depending on what the best route is between their pickup point and both of your destinations.

Typical UberPOOL Cars

With UberPOOL, you can expect the same comfortable sedans that you’d get with an UberX.

Pros of UberPOOL

  • Cheaper than UberX since the fare gets split between riders.
  • UberPOOL is a great way to meet new people.

Cons of UberPOOL

  • There is no limit on the number of pickups and drop-off points a driver may make en route to your location. This delays the time to reach your destination.

What Is UberXL?

UberXL are affordable SUVs that seat between 4–6 passengers. They are great for when you have a lot of baggage or cargo that won’t fit in an UberX. The fares for UberXL are generally 1.5x higher than UberX.

What Is Uber? A Guide to How Uber Works, Safety, Services, and More - UberXL

Typical UberXL Cars

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

Pros of UberXL

  • 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 of UberXL

  • 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 mid-tier luxury sedan with vinyl or leather interiors that seats up to 4 passengers. Rates are generally 2.5x higher than UberX but about 1.5x lower than UberBLACK.

What Is Uber? A Guide to How Uber Works, Safety, Services, and More - UberSELECT

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 of UberSELECT

  • You get a stylish car for an everyday price that falls between the cost of an UberBLACK and an UberX.
  • Drivers that drive for UberSELECT are highly rated, so you can expect stellar customer service.

Cons of UberSELECT

  • UberSELECT is not offered in all markets.

What Is UberBLACK?

Although UberX is Uber’s most used service, UberBLACK was their very first product.

This luxury black car service is a perfect option when you are in need of an upscale ride for special events like wining and dining a big client or going out on a big date.

What Is Uber? A Guide to How Uber Works, Safety, Services, and More - UberBLACK

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 of UberBLACK

  • If you want a fancier luxury car option than a typical UberX, UberBLACK is the way to go.
  • You’re also guaranteed a highly rated professional driver. Uber currently requires that BLACK drivers maintain at least a 4.80 passenger rating.
  • The cars are well maintained, and the drivers are fully insured which means you will be protected in case they get into an accident.
  • Unlike other Uber service types, UberBLACK drivers are professionally licensed and fingerprinted by local governmental bodies.

Cons of UberBLACK

  • It’s more expensive. In most markets, it’s roughly two to three times as much as UberX. But UberBLACK prices are just a little bit higher than standard taxi service prices.

What Is UberSUV?

With UberSUV, you get a luxury SUV that’s perfect for a group with 6 people. It’s the most expensive class of Uber you can take in most cities. However, a small number of cities have another service called UberLUX which is even more expensive than UberSUV.

What Is Uber? A Guide to How Uber Works, Safety, Services, and More - UberSUV

Typical UberSUV Cars

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

Pros of UberSUV

  • UberSUV drivers are fully licensed professional drivers and commercially insured. They also go through a 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 of UberSUV

  • It’s the most expensive Uber service.
  • UberSUV drivers are allowed to also take requests for UberBLACK. So if you order an UberBLACK, you might end up with an UberSUV. Some passengers have expressed annoyance that they get an UberSUV instead of an UberBLACK. But if you must have an SUV, you should specifically order one, or you might end up with a sedan.

What Is Uber Eats?

While not technically a type of Uber ride, it’s worth mentioning the service here. Uber Eats is the company’s food delivery service. You need a separate app to use it, but it allows you to tap into Uber’s network of delivery drivers in order to get food delivered from your favorite restaurants. You can learn more about it here.

What Are JUMP Bikes?

Uber Technologies, Inc., has lots of different companies as part of its larger service. One of the most recent additions is JUMP, a dockless bikesharing company. In select cities, you can now use the Uber app to rent a bike (this is known as “Uber Bike”). Learn more about this here.

Uber FAQ

To conclude this guide, we want to answer a few common questions people have about Uber:

1. Who is Uber’s CEO?

Dara Khosrowshahi is the current CEO of Uber. He took over for Uber founder Travis Kalanick in 2017.

2. What is Uber Freight?

Uber Freight is a logistics branch of Uber that connects truck drivers and long-haul shipping customers. You can learn more here.

3. Where is the Uber headquarters?

The Uber headquarters is in San Francisco, a common practice for Silicon Valley tech companies. However, the company maintains offices throughout the world, with locations in India, Canada, and Brazil, as well as dozens of offices throughout the United States.

4. Does Uber use self-driving cars?

Currently, Uber does not use self-driving vehicles to give rides to passengers. Uber is experimenting with self-driving technology, but things have stalled ever since an Arizona woman was killed by a self-driving car during a test.

5. What is Uber Air?

Uber Air is the term for a future service that Uber plans to operate in which people will be able to travel using VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) electric vehicles (which look like a cross between a helicopter and a small plane). Uber Elevate is the team currently working on this project, and they project that Uber Air will be available in Los Angeles, Dallas, and a third international market starting in 2023.

Start Using Uber Today

We hope this guide has helped you understand the ins and outs of Uber.

The best way to learn what Uber is about? Take a ride with the service. Visit our guide to learn how to get $5 off each of your first two Uber rides.