Uber’s long suffered from poor public image. “Bad optics” is how The Awl once put it, and the company has made efforts to improve its public image in the face of labor disputes, a vindictive culture, unfair wages, and the global list of countries that have banned it for violating local laws.
And yet: Uber still dominates the ride-sharing market in America. Plenty of companies are betting there’s room for that market to grow, though. This week, a Pew study found that 30 percent of Americans have never even heard of Uber.
So what would happen if America’s largest city, New York, didn’t have Uber? The demand for ride-sharing apps in New York is big enough to support numerous companies and all of them kind of work and look remarkably similar to the behemoth they are trying to “compete” with — inasmuch as much as David competed with Goliath.
Inverse put Goliath to the test in New York City to find out just how people would cope if pesky David didn’t control the market. We tested a few of major alternatives to Uber in New York.
First stop: Way2ride. Despite Way2ride’s ridiculous name and equally un-chic app, it worked just as well as Uber for a Saturday morning trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
How it works: Way2ride summons a taxi to your location. Since I live in the upper reaches of Manhattan where tourists fear to venture, I ended up with a green Boro taxi rather than a famous yellow cab. My driver was a pleasant older man with a Miami phone number. When I asked if he gets a lot of riders from the app, he said “oh yeah!”
It was just as fast as summoning an Uber, and cost the same as the Uber estimate. It was cashless and you can add a cashless tip, something Uber hasn’t quite figured out. Yet I fear for Way2ride’s longevity. The card reader flashed that I would soon be able to “Book this cab with Curb!” To me it seemed like seeing a Whopper advertisement in a McDonald’s drive through.
All in all: 3 of 4 stars.
When wandering the Met turned into wandering Upper East Side bars, we settled down to watch the Kentucky Derby. We were quickly left wanting another ride after the fastest two minutes in sports were over.
How it works: I opened the Gett app, a black car service based in Israel that, unlike Uber, has no surge prices. I summoned my ride. An animation showed up on the map next to my location in the app and estimated my driver would be there in a few minutes. Suddenly, the car’s icon transported to the Williamsburg bridge and I was informed there were no cars available.
Not the best start for trying out a new app, but I had other options.
Arro, unlike Gett, didn’t let me down.
How it works: Arro is a taxi summon app similar to Way2ride. If you’re in a taxi-trafficked area, just go ahead and flag one down. The app didn’t place my location correctly and the taxi that was reserved for me drove right past me. The problem with taxi-hail apps is that your face isn’t on the app, so to the driver, you’re just the same as every other person trying to hail a cab.
Arro is what to take if you feel that Uber just lacks that classic New York cab experience: Sudden braking, quick lane cuts, a driver with an unlimited-minutes plan. Payment was done over the app (tip and all) and the whole thing was seamless. Taxis are just as cheap, if not cheaper, in New York, but you don’t get that Silicon Valley “disruption” like you do when you ride with Uber.
When the roads in East Village got blocked up my driver even kicked me out to walk the last couple blocks like a real New York taxi driver should.
All in all: 2.5 stars
Gett, round 2
As the night progressed I decided to give Gett another try. It came this time.
The Gett car was a signless black Nissan. The only identifier was the “T” at the start of the license plate that signified the car was a service car. Our driver was wearing jeans, a black t-shirt, and a gray blazer. He was bumping “Where Are You Now” with the bass booster turned all the way up, and the car smelled like the inside of an Abercrombie and Fitch.
I could deal with the last two aspects of the ride, it was the rest of the ride that made it sketchier than discount sushi. There wasn’t even anything like the discreet “U” Uber drivers have in their front windshield, and he didn’t ask who I was after I got in his unmarked car.
Seamless and cheap, but after the first failed attempt and sketchier service, I don’t see how Gett will be able to compete with the Ubers and Lyfts of the world.
All in all: 1 star.
On a Thursday afternoon I tested the final major, non-Uber ride-share service in the city: Via. The app is designed more for people going to work than going out, but the service is expanding into night hours and limited Saturday hours.
How it works: The main difference is that Via is a carpool service. It picks up and drops off riders on corner streets not more than a block away from an address. It’s not door-to-door car service. Best of all: Via is always $5, no matter the distance or time.
It only took four minutes for my ride to arrive, and sure enough, I had to walk a block to get it. The door to the black Chevy Tahoe was locked when I first tried it, but the driver opened it when I flashed my Via ticket on my phone. The woman in business attire I was sharing the ride with scooted to the far seat and put on the soulless eyes New Yorkers get when they don’t want to talk to strangers. Everything was classy from the driver’s suit to the leather seats to the musky scent.
It’s not clear how Via operates for just $5. It’s just $2.25 more than the subway, and Via cars have working air conditioning. The cars only operate in Manhattan below 110th Street, so I had to take the subway down to catch the Via. A woman sat across from me on the subway and stared at me as she ate fragrant fish balls from 175th street to 59th street. Via is the perfect foil.
Via can be awkward on the first try, but if you’re looking for a cheap daytime ride, it’s the best option.
All in all: 3.5 stars.