Uber launched in Jakarta around August of 2014. Since then, the number of Uber cars have increased dramatically. I don’t have the number, but I can see that by locating one in my area, which is a suburb of Jakarta. Back then, I had to be in central business districts to catch one. No Uber car was in sight in suburbs. Now, I see more availability in suburbs. I can now use Uber cars to commute to work, and it’s pretty beneficial, especially financially. It costs 30–50% less than that of normal cab fares, depending on the type of cars (UberX) and traffic (especially outbound from town, where you have surge pricings in the evenings).

Image for post
Image for post

I started using Uber when I worked in Singapore.

It came out of curiosity. I was suprised by how the service compares to a normal cab. Singaporean cabs are not like Jakarta cabs — while they take you from A to B, their availability can be scarce at peak times (even more than Jakarta) and the drivers are generally grumpier. Jakarta cabs are just so available during the days and nights, but generally also bad when it rains and in peak hours. I still like Jakarta cabs more than Singapore’s, though.

Fed up with the fare structure of cabs in Singapore that adds hefty surcharges, and the general character of its drivers, I tried Uber.

It was a swift. The driver picked me up exactly where I am, helped by the excellent mapping system of Singapore. The maximum waiting was only 10 minutes, averaging 3–5 minutes. You no longer need to wait in the sun or go to the nearest shopping complex to hail for a cab. Just be wherever but be ready when the driver’s status is “Arriving Now”.

When I get aboard an Uber car, the driver generally greets me politely and just confirms my destination. No unnecessary conversation but somehow it feels very comfortable, like jumping into a friend’s car. Compare this to a cab where sometimes you don’t even get greeted and you still have to explain where you’re going.

The drivers generally treat you as a friend more than a guest. They don’t necessarily engage in conversations, but they try to make you feel comfortable.

When you alight, the experience feels very elegant. The usual pet peeve of reaching out to your wallet for cash or card, and then wait for changes from the driver, suddenly goes away. Just drop me here and thank you.

Of course, this experience is not uniform in every country. Some other countries that I’ve tried Uber in, like Malaysia and Indonesia, have some small or big differences.

The drivers in Indonesia and Malaysia can be a bit chit-chatty, engaging you in conversations they think you want to hear. Then, they are not always “nice” to you, in terms of gratitudes and just uttering nice words like “how are you” or “thank you”.

Road conditions in Indonesia and Malaysia are also big differentiators. Landmarks and places are not very clear, making the Uber drivers spend more time in finding your location. Traffic conditions also worsen the situation. You can no longer trust “10 minutes”, when it can easily reach 45 minutes. Yes, I waited for 45 minutes once. Cancelling is really not an option when the traffic is so bad and taking a cab is just as bad.

One other problem I discovered in Indonesia is the training and education level of the drivers. I am not saying that they are stupid. I am just saying that Uber should have trained them more on how to use the app, especially to navigate a map and find where the rider’s location is. It saves time and saves the rider energy by not calling and explaining absurd location clues. Uber also needs to train the drivers how to communicate better, as in how to take calls from riders and how to ask for directions.

I have been in Uber cars with drivers who can’t explain very clearly where he is so that I can help him. Uber drivers also need to know that riders know relatively exactly where they are, so they can’t lie about being in traffic jam or being near while they’re clearly very far away. I know, GPS can go bust but I’ve been in situation where the driver lied to me about his position.

Uber drivers in Indonesia, in general, should also be trained on how to not accept requests when they’re having lunch, dinner, or taking rest. It’s not fun to make riders wait for extra 15 minutes.

That said, I think there’s a formula on when to use Uber and when to use a cab, especially in Jakarta, Indonesia:

If you’re in the suburbs and/or in a hurry, use a cab: If you’re going to the airport and you haven’t made a chance to book your cab, do it now or hail one. It’s usually much faster to get one, especially if you’re in the suburbs.

If you’re in the rain, use Uber: If you’re stuck and have nowhere to go, and the cab line is long, call an Uber. It’s worth waiting the extra time to get a confirmed ride.

If you’re in the city center (and your destination is also within it), definitely use Uber: It’s where they all swarm, and usually it’s faster and much cheaper to commute short distances inside the city center.

If you don’t have cash at hand, use Uber: Need I say more?

If you want extra pampering, use luxury cab: While I found that UberBlack is supposedly the “luxury” Uber car, the type of car you get sometimes disappoint. If you are looking for a pampering ride, better book a luxury cab and you’re better off with that.

If you don’t like making phone calls: Use Uber, and make a pretty darn accurate location clue, or use GrabTaxi or other taxi hailing apps and see what happens.

Written by

Reflections on digital product design, travel, food and the in-betweens. Finding my compass.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store