Thursday, 6 March 2014

Uber: Late nights in London

I live in Bracknell, which is about 40 miles drive from London. Unfortunately there are a lot of events in London which means I end up in London in the evening. Until recently this has been inconvenient and/or rather costly so I have not been going to a lot of events. This has rather shown me the importance of these events for business, so I decided I should start going to more of them. This leaves me with a dilemma of how to get home...

Option 1: Last train

The obvious answer is to catch the last train. There is a direct train Waterloo to Bracknell, and the last train is around 23:30. It is slow (takes an hour), and for some reason SWT tend to lock the toilets, which is a pain if you have been drinking all evening. Of course this means watching the clock and leaving early. It is usually packed, and I decided long ago the only way to be vaguely comfortable, and have a table and power socket, is to go 1st class on that train, which is £21. Typically you need a taxi or tube or bus to Waterloo at around £5, and then a taxi home at the end for another £5. Of course there is a danger that you doze off, miss the station, and end up in Reading at 1am. It is, by far, the cheapest option though.

Total Cost: £31
Downside: Clock watching, leaving early, don't fall asleep.

Option 2: Hotel over night

Another option, which is usually sensible for two day events and I have done in the past for events I know will end late, is a hotel for the night. The issue is that a London hotel is at least £120, and more likely £180. You still need to get to the hotel (£5), and then from hotel to station in morning (£5), a train (£21) and taxi to work from station (£5). I normally get to work soon after 7am, but would be in much later if staying over night in London.

Total Cost: £156+
Downside: Taking overnight bag, not sleeping in own bed, late for work, expensive.

Option 3: Black cab home

What I ended up doing, before I stopped going to many events, was getting a black cab home. This is simple enough in London, though I have had problems on some occasions if not near a major road. I have had cabs around £150, but they got more and more expensive and now around £170. It does mean you end up at home in your own bed, and can sleep in the taxi, which is good. This was getting way too expensive. On top of which you usually are expected to give a tip, and getting a VAT receipt is a nuisance when you just want to get to bed.

Total Cost: £170
Downside: None really apart from the cost.

Option 4: Uber car

Last month I had a rather good dinner at the National Liberal Club with Jullian Huppert and a few friends. At the end of the night I was about to get a cab home, having resigned myself to the fact that this was a very expensive evening already (supporting Julian's re-election campaign), when John Benson said try Uber. He clicked the invite button, I followed the link, downloaded the app, put in card details and asked it for a quote to get home. It said £65! So I said yes, and it said 4 minutes and showed me where the car was on its way to me, registration number, name and picture of driver. The driver knew exactly where I was by GPS from my phone, my name and my mobile number. I got in, fell asleep, arrived home, job done. Quite specifically on their web site its says no need to tip him, all charged to the card. As I walked through my door my phone dinged with the emailed receipt from Uber. I have used it again, and again £65 and only 3 minutes wait. It just works!

Total Cost: £65
Downside: Still more than a train, but if there are two of us it is a no brainer.

Overall I have to say I am impressed, and it starts to make these events much more available. It is even cheaper than getting a hotel for a two day event if I get a car home and train back next morning! I far prefer sleeping in my own bed and not having hassle of taking an over night bag to an event. I can go with just myself and my mobile phone, which makes a change.

They also do a referral scheme where both of us get £10 credit. Just go to or use code wp7ru.

I'll be in London tonight, with two colleagues, making this cheaper than getting a train home as we can share one car.


  1. You forgot another option, don't drink and take the car instead.

    1. If I had a car! I cycle mostly.

  2. Hi, there seems to be some issues with Uber, it has been deemed illegal in Brussels a couple of days ago and subject to heavy protest in Paris.

    The main reason is unfair competition to taxi as cost structure is different (no license fees, etc...) but also, and that has a more direct impact on user, some Uber drivers are not professional taxi, limo service or equivalent and don't have the appropriate insurance, which in case of an accident could have a massive impact

  3. Every time I'm stuck using public transport I'm left wondering why people put up with it.

    For example, my wife is currently working away from home, so we visit each other at weekends. So my options:

    Car: about £50-£60 in petrol for the round trip. Its door-to-door (drive directly from my house to my wife's flat). I can do the journey any time I like - if I get delayed from leaving by half an hour then no problem, I just end up arriving half an hour late at the other end. Takes about 3-4 hours each way, depending on traffic.

    Advance booked train: about £20-£30 *each way*, but you've got to book at least a week in advance (really 2 weeks in advance to get the cheapest price). I've got to get from home to the station, which is either a 45 or so minute walk, a taxi ride, or a bus journey. The taxi adds about £10 to the cost each way. The bus schedule doesn't match the train schedule at all - the bus is always scheduled to arrive at the station about 45 minutes before the train leaves, so I may as well have walked. Additionally, the busses don't run past about 19:00 on week days and Saturdays and don't run at all on Sundays, so the bus isn't an option at all for the return journey (when I'm always arriving late or on a Sunday, usually both.). Luckily its just a short walk from the station at the other end. The train takes about 5-6 hours. If I get delayed and miss the train then tough, its an advance booking so the ticket is non-transferable between trains, so I've lost me £20-30 ticket price. So whilst walking to the station and catching the train can be *marginally* cheaper than taking the car, it does take twice as long, require a lot of forward planning and has a reasonable chance that I might get delayed or have to cancel and lose that money anyway. Also, spending 45 minutes walking up hill at 2am in the rain after a 6 hour train journey isn't exactly fun. Also, in my experience, far less reliable than driving and the station staff have a habit of locking the waiting rooms in the evening so lots of hanging around on the platform in the freezing cold when changing trains.

    Non-advance booking of the train: £60+ each way. All the same problems as the advance booking except it doesn't require forward planning and doesn't matter so much if I get delayed. But it's over twice as expensive as taking the car before we've even considered the cost of getting to/from the station, takes twice as long and is less reliable, so why would anyone do this instead of just driving?

    Despite its downsides, I _do_ take the train on occasion when I need to make a 1-way trip (i.e. if my wife and I are expecting to travel back home together a few days later, I'll take the train and then we'll drive back together in her car). But honestly, why would anyone take the train in any other circumstance?

    (Oh, and for all the people saying "but you can get work done on the train, but not when you're driving", I would counter that the "airline seats" on trains haven't got nearly enough room to actually use a laptop. If you're lucky and get a table seat then yes you might be able to get some work done (so long as you don't need an internet connection - 3G is very flaky), but with all the disturbances of a train it probably won't be especially high quality working time. So the choice is: spend 6 hours on a train sort-of-working, or 3 hours driving and then 3 hours at home properly working.)

  4. Yet another option which I know some friends use (albeit they tend to be a bit further away from London than you) is to join a club. It sounds anacronistic, but for a subscription you get cheap rooms along with meeting facilities and the like. Some sums to calculate whether then costings work out for you based on how much you'd use it, along with a convenience fudge factor would reveal if it's worth it or not.

    1. I doubt RevK would want to belong to any club which would accept him as a member...

    2. There is that, and I have been a member of a club that would never have someone like me as a member due to some convoluted circumstances. However, it is an interesting idea. I am not sure I arrange enough meetings (yet) let along go to enough.

    3. And there's always the hardened IT Geek option, crash on the sofa in the datacentre break room....

  5. Whatever happened to mini-cabs? Sounds just like you describe Uber, except they have some 21st Century technology.

    Perhaps what we need is RevPad - basic crash-pad facilities that provide a bed for the night but not much else (shared bathrooms, coffee and snack machines) for a reasonable price. Fifty quid, perhaps? The Japanese have cracked this, with their "Sleeping Pod" hotels, why not something similar here?

    1. Aren't those called youth hostels? (which aren't just for youth.. quite a few crusties my age when I was last in one).

  6. Keep a spare cabinet in nearby DC complete with sleeping bag. Sleeping upright is possible :P

  7. Uber surcharge policy has not had the pleasure of yet then >? lol

  8. Wonder now if all still bells and whistles for Uber or have had the pleasure of the Uber surcharge policy...........