Beginner's Guide to Uber

All about how the ride-sharing service works

Since its launch in 2012, Uber has become the most recognized alternative to traditional taxi cabs. Uber is available in more than 700 cities around the world, and this number will only increase. Whether you're traveling to Seattle, Dubai, Tokyo, London, Paris, Montreal, Chicago, or another major metro center, you can expect Uber rides to be available.

Visit the Uber web site to check if Uber is in your city or a city you plan to visit.

Uber Facts

Uber is not a taxi service. Drivers cannot pick up riders off the street. Instead, Uber is a car-for-hire service that relies on smartphone technology to dispatch drivers and manage fees. Also unlike taxi services, Uber drivers do not possess special licenses; rather, they use their personal vehicles to offer discounted fare rides. 

Uber's smartphone app takes care of the entire ride-hailing and payment process. Use your credit or debit card to pay right in the app, with no need for cash.

You must be 18 years or older to have an Uber account and use the service. In the United States, Uber drivers must be at least 21 years old, have at least one year of licensed driving experience, and drive an acceptable four-door vehicle.

Uber is designed so that the rider doesn't need to carry cash. However, you can tip with cash if you prefer not to add the tip via the app.

How Uber Works

Uber is intended to be easier than using a taxi. Here's how the Uber process works.

Before Using Uber

Install the app on your smartphone and create an online Uber account. You'll provide information about the credit card you plan to use to pay for rides, so you never need to bring or handle any cash.

When You Need a Ride

When you need a ride, use the app to tell Uber your pickup location. You can choose from a variety of ride-type options; the most common is UberX. Alternately, you can select Uber Pool if you are willing to share the ride and save some money. (More on Uber ride tiers below.)

Uber will locate drivers in your area, find a driver for you, and tell you how many minutes away your driver is. Rides are commonly three to 10 minutes away in major centers.

Uber will alert you when the ride has arrived. The Uber app will show you the driver's details, such as name, photo, and type of car so you know what to look for.

During and After the Ride

Enjoy your ride. The app handles payment, so just step out of the car when you arrive at your destination and thank your driver. You'll be asked via the app to rate your driver on a scale of 1 to 5 (politeness, safety, cleanliness). Similarly, the driver rates you from 1 to 5 (politeness). You have the option of adding a tip.

The entire trip is tracked through the Uber app for accountability and ease.

Young man holds a smart device while using Uber app
S3studio / Getty Images

Why People Love Uber

Uber's appeal revolves around the trifecta of price, quality, and convenience. 

Price

Taxicab drivers hate Uber because Uber undercuts their fees by up to 50 percent, but this, of course, is one reason riders love using Uber. Plus, Uber drivers don't require tips and can't pressure you for them; as mentioned, you can add them later in the app. Taxi drivers, on the other hand, typically expect at least a 15 percent tip at the time of payment. You can also use Uber Pass, which is essentially a subscription to Uber that gives you discounted rides.

Bear in mind, however, that Uber does impose surge pricing for peak events such as major sporting matches, holidays like New Year's Eve, and even busy weekend evenings. Fees can climb significantly for a few hours. As a rule, though, Uber rides are still cheaper than taxi cabs.

Quality

Uber cars tend to be cleaner, newer, and better-smelling than many taxis. The accountability built into the Uber app motivates drivers to keep their cars in good shape. Because Uber drivers are rated by every passenger every day, there is the incentive to be both prompt and safe.

Convenience

The payment process is easy and stress-free. Likewise, the app frees you from the often frustrating process of hailing a cab. The ability to handle all these details right from your phone saves time and aggravation (and keeps company and driver overhead low). 

Because Uber is attractive for drivers to join, the number of available drivers usually results in very fast response times. While this certainly does vary, the typical Uber rider gets a pickup within three to 10 minutes of hailing, while taxis can take 30 to 45 minutes after being called.

Uber is much loved by its millions of users
Tempura / Getty Images

Service Tiers

Uber offers a range of service tiers, spanning from single riders and groups up to executive limo services.

UberX is the cheapest and most commonly used form of Uber. Vehicles are ordinary, four-door, models that fit up to four riders. Fares are about half the price of taxis in major cities.

Uber Pool, offered in some cities, allows you to share your ride with another person and split the cost. UberXL can accommodate six passengers, using an SUV or minivan; it's more expensive than UberX. Uber Comfort is for riders who are constantly on the go and want a little extra comfort. Uber Select is a premium ride in a high-end car.

Uber's highest-tier services include Uber Black, luxury rides with professional drivers, and Uber Black SUV, which offers luxury rides for six people.

In some cities, Uber even offers Uber Espanol for Spanish-speaking riders, Uber Assist if a rider needs extra help, and Uber Wav for wheelchair-accessible rides.

Uber Black
Debenport / Getty Images

Driver and Passenger Ratings

Part of Uber's appeal is that drivers are under tremendous pressure to deliver pleasant, safe, prompt, and clean experiences for passengers. Every passenger rates every driver on every trip, and drivers are required to maintain an average customer rating of 4.6 out of 5.0. (Minimums vary by city.) Uber deactivates drivers who fall below this standard.

Uber does not disclose this to passengers directly, but every driver gets to see your rating when deciding whether to pick you up. And yes, every driver rates you right after you leave the Uber vehicle at the dropoff point. This is to protect future drivers from having to deal with rude, violent, aggressive, and drunk/impaired passengers. If your rating is too low, Uber can bar you from using the service temporarily or permanently.

To encourage kinder, gentler Uber rider behavior (stop slamming doors!), the app displays rider ratings right underneath names in the Uber app's menu.

Uber drivers: yes, you rate them with every trip
Horrocks / Getty Images

Becoming an Uber Driver

In large cities, taxi cab drivers pay $500 to $1,200 per month to their parent companies and municipalities. This cost includes dispatch and administration services and any additional fees the taxi company chooses to levy on its drivers.

Uber does not charge any of these monthly fees to its drivers, making Uber very attractive for amateur drivers. Uber requires that drivers:

  • Are at least 21 years old
  • Have at least one year of licensed driving experience (three if you are less than 23 years old)
  • Possess a clean driving record
  • Have no criminal record
  • Drive an insured car that is less than 15 years old

Your car must:

  • Have a clean title (not salvaged, reconstructed, or rebuilt) 
  • Not be a rental, unless it's from an approved Uber lender
  • Not have damage, missing pieces, commercial branding, or taxi signage

Uber will confirm all these details with the appropriate authorities. Uber will also do a background check, looking for serious infractions such as excessive speeding, driving while intoxicated, sex crimes, and other criminal offenses. 

In short, if you're an honest person, safe driver, and reliable worker with a newer four-door car, you can be an Uber driver within two weeks or so.

It's relatively easy and cheap to become an Uber driver
Engel / Getty Images

Happy Ubering

Uber's success has spawned other, similar services such as Lyft, Curb, and Sidecar, but Uber remains the most popular. In fact, Uber is so common that expressions such as "getting an Uber" and "Ubering" in various languages have become commonplace.