Riding Uber in Taipei

Uber in Taipei “Will I avoid traveling to places that don’t have Uber and Airbnb?” It’s after 2 a.m. in Taipei and I’m on my way back to my hotel after a long day. The answer for now is ‘no.’ But I could see that changing in the future.

When I visited Taipei for the first time last year I immediately fell in love with the city. Like New York it’s both modern and gritty. People were friendly. Things were cheap. 1 And it’s one of the most friendly countries in Asia for gay tourists—it has the largest pride parade in the region (by far), and it’s widely expected to be the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage.2

Taxis, though, were a surprising challenge. None of the drivers my boyfriend and I rode with last year spoke English or Japanese, and handed a smartphone with a location indicated every single one we encountered proved to be both severely farsighted3 and technically inept.4 Once on the road they would drive at uncomfortably high speeds (as taxis do), and even basics like monitoring which route the driver was taking us, indicating where we wanted to be let off, and figuring out how much change we were supposed to receive were a hassle. The taxis themselves where typical of most taxis around the world—that is to say, a bit shabby inside and out.

Uber in Taipei couldn’t have been more different. All three that I rode in fully deserved the 5-star ratings I gave them. The drivers were calm and professional. The cars were clean. They picked me up exactly where I wanted, and they took me to the exact location where I was going. One of my drivers spoke English, but it absolutely didn’t matter that the other two did not.The rides were cheap, and payment was (of course) already taken care of. And there’s something kind of reassuring about receiving a detailed e-mail receipt from Uber with a full breakdown of the route you took and how much you were charged minutes after you arrive at your destination.

When we rode in taxis last year I spent the entire time watching both the street and my phone—were we going in the right direction? Was this the fastest route? Where should we get off? This year I spent the trips reading Twitter and wondering… “Will I avoid traveling to places that don’t have Uber and Airbnb?”5

  1. Compared to Tokyo. [return]
  2. This year Tsai Ing-wen, the leading presidential candidate released a message in support of same-sex marriage on the same day as the pride parade. Rumor on the street in Taipei was that she herself is lesbian, though this may be nothing more than homophobic attempt to discredit a smart and powerful woman. [return]
  3. Drivers typically held the phone at arm’s length and squinted or searched for reading glasses. Things did not improve after activating larger fonts and other accessibility features on the phone. [return]
  4. Drivers would attempt to scroll the screen with massive swipes of the hand, invariably throwing the map location to somewhere entirely unrelated. This was particularly bizarre as by late 2014 smartphone penetration in Taiwan exceeded 65%. [return]
  5. For an interesting discussion of the user experience on Uber check out Episode 57 - The User Experience of Ben Thompson and James Allworth’s podcast Exponent starting around 14:40. [return]