Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

Uber Cancelled My Cancellation Fee

by Roger Lanctot | May 18, 2016

When fawning over the darlings of the technology industry we tend to forget that these organizations are made up of human beings working with fallible technology.  The media and analyst community are obsessed with Uber, Google, Tesla and Apple and their collective disruptive impacts on industries ranging from transportation to communication to e-commerce and insurance.

But these organizations and their products and services stumble and fail or fall short of expectations on a daily basis.  The latest manifestation of this for me was Uber.  A senior Uber executive was keynoting Telematics Berlin yesterday reminding the audience that Uber was back in Germany, this time with professional drivers in most cities.

Having relied on Daimler-owned Mytaxi during recent visits to the country I fired up the Uber app and tried my luck.  The app was slow to open and also slow to locate itself and when I finally got to the point of summoning a driver it appeared that there were either no nearby drivers or they weren't responding.

The reality was that the app thought I was still in Santa Clara, California, where I had last summoned an Uber ride.  Unbeknownst to me, Uber summoned a driver in Santa Clara, while I closed the app and turned my attention to Mytaxi.

In the evening I saw that I had been charged a modest cancellation fee for not showing up for my phantom pick up in Santa Clara.  This happened to me once last year, when I summoned an Uber drive in Amsterdam while I was standing outside my hotel in Atlanta.  I saw what was happening in that case, called the driver and cancelled the pickup.

The point is, Uber, Apple, Google and Tesla all make mistakes.  Analysts and journalists have been dumping on Apple's $1B investment in profit-less DiDi in China as a show of weakness in courting Chinese government favor, Tesla has come under fire for a range of issues from self-driving Model S's getting into accidents to skepticism regarding its ability to build the 400,000 Model 3's that customers have reserved, and Google, well, everyone's dumping on Google for one reason or another at any given time - particularly in Europe.

Uber watchers expect the company to ultimately build a global fleet of automated taxis using home-grown maps built from probe data collected from Uber vehicles.  Uber is expected to suck all the oxygen out of the ride hailing, taxi and car rental industries wherever it operates single-handedly transforming transportation as we all - sheep-like - surrender our car keys to Travis Kalanick.

It is reassuring to note that Uber and its app are laughably flawed and unreliable.  When Uber works it is spectacular - especially when a Tesla or an Audi or a Mercedes shows up to take you to your destination.  But when Uber fails, it's a joke, nothing more.

For me, Uber's flaws leave the door wide open to local competition from companies like Via in Chicago and New York and Fasten in Boston and dozens of other competitors all over the world.  Uber has a lot of work to do and while Uber is a great evil to taxi drivers everywhere (who are increasingly turning to their own app-based hailing options like Flywheel and Curb), Uber actually remains quite vulnerable to determined competitors.

Uber cancelled my cancellation fee.  But the experience restored my faith in the company's fallibility.

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