For the longest time UBER was the disruptor vs. taxi-cabs and limousines. UBER provided a way to get a ride on demand, when and where you needed it. First it was with black car limousines that were sitting idle. Then it was with regular people who wanted to make money driving other people around. In a big way, UBER brought the masses to the gig-economy. And in doing so changed the way people get around.
But UBER's exclusivity is gone. In the USA LYFT is a worthy competitor, offering an experience much like UBER, and at similar prices. But once you leave the USA is where the game really changes. Over the past month of travel, all across Europe my use of UBER was almost nil. I bolted for BOLT, a service I have used in the past, but never as my primary mode of car based transportation.
In Malta Bolt was my only option as UBER doesn't operate there and taxi's are priced higher as you expect. In Marseille, Prague, Lisbon and London, I decided to try it out without worry, knowing I had UBER to fall back on, or in London, regular black cabs.
What did I learn--
1) Mapping Accuracy-UBER is a slightly more accurate app than Bolt, but I think the errors I experienced - mostly drivers going to pick up spots a block away, something that likely has more to do with the way businesses like restaurants are "addressed" in Prague, or operator error, as I had a few block long walks. Other that that, the rides were great. Pickups were timely and cars were fairly comfortable. Cancellations are mostly fee free up to a point in case you make an error, and the app asks why you cancelled.
2) Pick Up Laws Vary City By City-unless you know how the pick up laws and where a vehicle can stop, it can also get confusing. In London for example there are some places cars can't stop for pick ups. Once you learn the tricks of the pick up I found that pick ups and drop offs are pretty much like they are with UBER.
3) Condition of Cars-Here again, UBER has set a standard, but those standards change country by country. For the most part, other than a few cars in Prague that needed a washing, I found the BOLT cars to be of similar quality.
4) The Sound of Silence-UBER and LYFT in the USA have done a very good job of educating their drivers about having the radio or music either off or at fairly low level. With BOLT I often entered cars where the music was blaring, or the driver was talking non-stop on their phones like London cabbies tend to do. As someone who makes calls between meetings, I found myself having to ask for the radio to be tuned down. All drivers complied, but for some people it could be uncomfortable to make the ask.
5) Conversation-I had some really sparkling conversations with drivers in Malta, and of course London. Prague was hit or miss, and in Lisbon/Cascais the rides were often short, as I tended to use more rail than ride-shares, except at night or when on a date. The Maltese drivers were often like local tour guides. Other than on some rides in Prague, English was clearly understood and in most cases the drivers could converse easily and really enjoyed the ability to practice their English language skills.
6) Airport Pick Ups-At airports most have done a really good job of making it easy for the ride share cars to pick you up moving them to the short stay lots that are within walking distance to the arrivals baggage claim terminals. In Malta, Prague and Lisbon, my pick ups were never more than a five or six minute wait, and in Malta the car was there waiting as I hailed it after clearing immigration. In Prague I walked to the designated pick up location, at the airport Courtyard by Marriott and my car was a nice station wagon that had a family exiting to go to the hotel making my wait almost only my walk across the pick up area. In Lisbon the wait was about two minutes, as it was the Xmas Holiday period and all the Skoda's look the same.
In effect my Bolt airport pick ups were far better than what we now experience in San Francisco, Boston or Los Angeles Airports, and more like what I experience in Seattle and even San Diego, where the cars get to the pick up points so fast that the wait is almost non-existent.
7) What About Taxi's--Over the trip, I took two taxi rides in London, none elsewhere. The London taxi rides were simply they were both short and for about the same price as BOLT or UBER and the cabs were right there when I needed on, and no waiting on a windy day.
Bolt is a real competitor to UBER and after a month of using it, there's no question that if an when they come to the USA, that UBER and LYFT both will have a very formidable rival