Groaning under your own weight in groceries from Rimping and can’t face walking home? Had one too many craft lagers at Beer Republic and don’t care to risk driving back? Need to get that visa extension done at immigration in Promenada Resort Mall but live on the opposite side of town? Worried you might have dengue fever and need to get to Bangkok Hospital fast? Nervous to ride a motorbike on the city’s unforgiving roads? The time to rejoice is now for the pioneer and undisputed champion of on-demand ridesharing, Uber, has finally run a green light in Chiang Mai and its fledgling service is already revolutionising the way the city moves.
So what exactly is Uber?
Hailing from the U.S., Uber is, quite simply, an online platform that matches those who need to get from A to B with a network of drivers for hire. For a privately-held startup which began life less than eight years ago, Uber currently operates in no less than 552 metropolitan areas in 72 countries across the globe and, ironically, is now valued at more than the 50 billion dollar empire of motoring colossus Ford. In response to over 54,000 earlier expressions of interest from expat residents, their entry-level low cost solution, UberX, hit Chiang Mai on the 1st November last year giving everyday local drivers the opportunity to use their own non—luxury vehicle as an independent form of public transport.
How does Uber work?
Through the miracle of modern technology developed with the expertise of a nuclear physicist, a computational neuroscientist and a machinery specialist, Uber offers both a desktop site as well as an intuitive mobile application through which those who need a door-to-door ride can summon a car to collect them from their desired location and, via the power of GPS satellite navigation, drive them (and their luggage) in air-conditioned comfort to their required destination – a phenomenon popularly known as ‘tap-and-ride’.
What do I need to get started with Uber?
As a would-be passenger, the first step to using the Uber service is to create an account for which you’ll need to be connected to the internet using 3G/4G, WiFi or Broadband. Although you can “sign up to ride” on the Uber web site, arguably the most convenient approach is to download and install the free Uber mobile application –by visiting whichever of Google Play (for Android devices), iTunes (for Apple gadgets) or Microsoft Store (for Windows Phones)- onto your smartphone or tablet and register through the app directly. Designed to get you moving in minutes, you simply need to supply your first and last names, email address, mobile phone number (prefixed with the appropriate country calling code) and a password of your choosing (minimally five characters) then select your preferred language, input details of a payment method (Visa or MasterCard prepaid/credit/debit card, PayPal or opt to pay in cash) and, lastly, enter a promotion code if you have one. After submitting the information, Uber will text a 4-digit code to the mobile phone you designated in order to verify the number. Once confirmed, you’re ready to make your very first booking!
How do I arrange a ride with Uber?
After enabling an internet connection on your device, users of a laptop or PC with built-in location services can use their favourite web browser to access Uber’s secure mobile site while those with a smartphone or tablet need only launch the Uber mobile application. Once signed in, you’ll first need to set your pickup point on the interactive map either by selecting your current position as detected by the app or by manually typing in a place name nearest your exact whereabouts. Next, choose your drop off location to be presented with an estimate of the fare and, if satisfied with the quoted price, submit an UberX request. In no time at all, a nearby available driver will respond to your request and hasten your way. Along with an indication of the estimated moment of their arrival (wait times are seldom more than five minutes), you can even track the driver’s vehicle in real-time before as well as during the journey on the map within the Uber mobile app.
Showing no signs of hitting the brakes, Uber has recently partnered with LINE, the instant messaging system from Japan and by far the most widely used of its kind in Thailand, allowing their users to book a ride in order to meet any of their listed friends or family contacts by adding the Uber ID ‘@uberth’ as a ‘Friend’ within the LINE mobile application.
When are Uber drivers available & which areas do they serve?
Although the Uber service in Chiang Mai is accessible round-the-clock, as might be expected, drivers –being everyday folk- are most active during daylight hours and in more heavily populated areas. Encompassing the entire 40.2 km2 of the city municipality [thesaban nakhon] of Chiang Mai, Uber’s current coverage area also extends into the outlying suburbs and partway into the surrounding districts of Mae Rim, San Sai, San Kamphaeng, Saraphi and Hang Dong.
How much does Uber cost & how do I pay?
No more haggling over fares or chance being fleeced as a foreigner, UberX’s standard pricing is appreciatively transparent with the approximate –but surprisingly accurate- cost of a ride stated upfront and, being the company’s budget service offering, satisfyingly light on the pocket. With regular fares calculated on the basis of distance, time and prevailing traffic conditions, the minimum flagfall in Chiang Mai for a one-way trip is 20 baht plus an additional 2 baht per kilometre and 2 baht per minute. As a guide, to travel by Uber from Phucome junction at the intersection of Canal and Huay Kaew Roads to Promenada Resort Mall (a walk of almost two and a half hours or roughly 30 minute drive) shows as a ludicrously low 74 to 93 baht; from Tha Phae Gate to Maya Lifestyle Shopping Centre near Nimman just 57 to 71 baht; and from the ‘Provincial Arcade’ bus terminals to the train station a mere 38 to 46 baht. As if their base fares weren’t affordable enough, the Uber Chiang Mai Facebook page continues to be the source of repeated promotions gifting free or discounted rides; better still, with UberX vehicles comfortably seating at least four passengers, split the cost of a journey with your buddies and, per head, it’ll amount to little more than peanuts.
For a ride to or from Chiang Mai International Airport, on the other hand, Uber charges a flat rate of 150 baht whereas a round trip to that most emblematic of Chiang Mai temples and prime tourist attraction, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is fixed in price at 300 baht. At times of excessive demand from riders (such as during national holidays) or scarce supply of drivers, Uber’s ‘surge pricing’ algorithm is triggered causing fares to be adjusted upwards by up to five times the standard rates. Despite being widely criticised as a form of price gouging, the economic rationale behind such a practice isn’t to deter people from using the service but rather ingeniously to put more Uber wheels on the ground to pick up the slack while allocating available rides to those who value them most. Riders are notified within Uber’s mobile application of a temporary price hike and, of course, have the freedom to choose an alternative mode of conveyance for getting around Chiang Mai.
Upon reaching the destination, the final fare is communicated to the rider and, depending on the payment method selected at the time of registration, either billed directly to the prepaid/debit/credit card on file or settled in cash following which an electronic receipt is delivered to the email address associated with your Uber account. Although reports of which from Chiang Mai are almost non-existent, if you do feel you were overcharged by virtue of the driver taking an unnecessarily scenic route or using the city’s more congested roads, riders can connect with Uber’s 24/7 customer support team and request a fare review.
Whether or not to tip your driver was, in the past, something of a roadblock for Uber. Long vehemently opposed to the fact, the company has lately relaxed their policy now recognising gratuities as optional and a matter of personal discretion. Their mobile application doesn’t, though, feature a tipping function so any token benefit as a reward for good service will need to be volunteered in cold hard baht and, with drivers receiving only a 75% cut of the final fare, will no doubt be warmly welcomed.
Is Uber safe?
No transportation service in the world can be guaranteed completely free of risk and, as clearly laid out in their terms and conditions, Uber is no different. To safeguard passengers as much as is feasible, the company mandates certain minimum criteria concerning the roadworthiness of vehicles as well as stringent eligibility requirements and background security screening in order to be approved as an Uber driver.
Before they can accept each trip request, the driver has to take a selfie as an identity check and, after agreeing to the hire, their credentials (including name and photograph) along with the details of their vehicle (including make/model of car and licence plate number) are available to the waiting rider through the Uber mobile application. As an extra precaution, riders can share the particulars of their trip with friends or family through the app so they can follow the progress of your journey live.
Predictably, Uber drivers in Chiang Mai are local Thais often professionals working part-time on the side, generally possess a reasonable if not better command of spoken English, typically personable in nature owning clean, well-maintained cars with working seatbelts and far more likely to observe traffic laws and driving rules than the average road user here.
So as to continually improve service quality but also -in true Airbnb style- to provide mutual accountability, the Uber mobile app prompts driver and rider alike to leave a star rating and anonymous feedback at the end of the trip. Drivers who score above 4.6 out of 5 remain in good stead with Uber while riders with a poor standing may well find their trip requests refused!
Is Uber legal?
Certainly no stranger to controversy, Uber has been the target of legal action, bans and even large-scale protests in a number of major cities worldwide by governments and taxi unions who variously accuse the company of unfair competition and endangering the lives of passengers by using drivers who are untrained, unlicensed and uninsured. Although Uber is no longer deemed unlawful in Thailand, they do occupy an unregulated space here since there are no provisions under the country’s archaic Motor Vehicle and Land Traffic Acts that cover ridesharing. In their defence, the company are known to be actively lobbying the Thai authorities in order to comply with the same legislation applicable to conventional taxi cabs.
Who is Uber’s main rival in Chiang Mai?
Publicised as a ride-hailing service, Malaysian founded Grab (formerly GrabTaxi) was introduced into Chiang Mai in December 2015. Replicating Uber’s innovative business model and also offering 24-hour instant bookings (subject to a 50 baht surcharge) through their smartphone app, Grab dispatches only licensed and metered city taxis, employs qualified drivers, provides complimentary personal accident insurance and allows riders to schedule a reservation up to seven days in advance. In sharp contrast to Uber’s virtually impeccable service record in Chiang Mai to date, however, Grab has provoked largely negative reactions among foreigners in the city with complaints about long wait times, an inadequate fleet of vehicles and limited coverage common.
What are your own experiences using Uber in Chiang Mai either as a driver or passenger? What do you think will be the impact on the city’s more conventional forms of public transport? We’d absolutely love to hear your views on the subject so please leave us a comment below!