Rich Barton: Uber made me call my mom

uber-barton

Uber driver, Erick, and Rich Barton at a garage tagged by street artist, Reach.

A month or so ago, I had dinner with a group of entrepreneurs at the Goldman Internet Conference in Vegas.  Among them was Travis Kalanick, the colorful and talented founder and CEO of Uber. Travis is a man on a mission to revolutionize how we get around, as I’m sure you’re all well aware.  I’ve been a customer from the early days of Uber Seattle, but I really only used it as a taxi replacement – once a week on a Saturday night out and the occasional trip to the airport.

At dinner, Travis tried to convince me that Uber was changing home values in certain neighborhoods based on ease of Uber access. (I need to speak with Zillow’s Chief Economist, Dr. Stan Humphries, about using Uber availability as an input into the Zestimate algorithm, but I’m a little dubious).

That said, Travis did convince me to get rid of my car.

For the third week of December, I hid my keys and used nothing but Uber. Everywhere. To and from work. To pick the kids up from basketball practice. Last minute Christmas shopping. Out to dinner. The Seahawks game. Everywhere.

A few observations:

  • I walked more.  Totally unexpected.  Working downtown, there are always errands to run after work.  It’s way easier to walk out of my building to Pike Place Market to pick up the smoked salmon, than it is to drive and deal with parking.  I enjoy walking, but I don’t usually have time to walk the whole three miles to my Madison Park home.  With Uber, I can walk one mile through the city, make a stop or two along the way, and then call in the air strike, getting picked up in stride. Loved it.
  • I saved time.  I’m sure Travis has data on this, but I’ll bet one-third of my transport time when “driving” is actually spent parking.  My mean time from my office desk seat to the back seat of an Uber driving away from my building was two minutes.  In my own car, this time is nine minutes.  I have to take another elevator down to sub-level three.  I have to wait in line to get out of my garage as the policeman waves a line of commuters coming out of the garage into traffic.  Time savings for city parking when going out to dinner or running errands is huge, as well.  Big win.
  • I spent more money.  I think.  My Uber bill for the week totaled $410.  If I had a $110,000 Mercedes S class, then Uber would be cheaper when taking depreciation into consideration. However, I have a 2013 Ford Mustang GT.  It’s a 5.0L tricked out California Special Edition, but even with all the bells and whistles, it’s a Ford, and only cost me $42,000.  So, if I depreciate generously at $1,000 per month, plus gas,  plus $300 per month in parking, Uber is still a bit more costly.  Insurance and maintenance could push it over the line. Anyway, the expense is not a barrier.  Close enough.
  • I got more done.  There are pros and cons to this one, but I was able to work in the back seat of my Uber.  And read the paper.  It was pretty nice.
  • I talked to my Mom more.  It’s way easier to have a real phone conversation in the car when you’re riding.  My mom was happy. Me, too.
  • I sent an Uber to pick up my son.  :-|  He’s 14 and I tracked his progress like the NSA tracks Angela Merkel, but I still don’t think we’re supposed to use Uber this way.  Regardless, it was awesome.
  • I sneezed more I have a really sensitive nose.  At my request, no one in my family wears perfume.  No smelly hand creams, etc. I get sneezy. I get headaches. I think these tree shaped air fresheners are a plague on the planet, and for whatever reason, about one-third of Uber drivers think they need three to five of these evil smell trees in their cars.  I give lower ratings on these cars, and I implore Travis here to make modest use of air fresheners an Uber policy going forward.

Am I going to get rid of my Mustang? Probably not. I love to drive and I don’t really have to make this tradeoff from an expense perspective.

But I will tell you this: I do now feel Uber is my own personal driver, and I’d guess 50 percent of my car trips are now Uber rides.

Travis conceived of and is leading nothing short of a transportation revolution. Well done.

Rich Barton is the co-founder and chairman of Zillow. This post originally appeared on his blog — HopperandDropper. You can follow him on Twitter @Rich_Barton

  • CuriousOffice

    uber was one of very few new services wherein I was INSTANTLY hooked. No growing on you required. It’s just a phenomenally great experience compared to a taxi.

  • Zero

    You live in Madison Park and work downtown and yet you don’t take the bus?

    • One

      Rich Barton take the bus? What is he, some sort of peasant?

    • Rich Barton

      Yes, lame, i know. However, my mom can’t hear me on the phone when i’m on the bus. too loud, and i don’t want to be rude

  • http://www.tatango.com Derek Johnson

    1 week… hahaha I gave up my car for Uber over 2 years ago and haven’t looked back since.

  • Ken Griffey III

    I’m a member of this cool program where a large, limousine-like vehicle comes and picks me up a block away from my Central District home and drops me off practically anywhere in the Seattle-metro area. It picks up other passengers along the way and actually can hold something like 100 commuters/sexy singles. I use it to get to work every day, and I’m relaxing, reading a book, listening to music, whatever I want to do. The best part is that it’s only $2.50 for a trip up to 4 hours, or $90 for a monthly membership.

    It’s a really cool startup and I recommend it to all my friends. Try it now, because King County is trying to set limitations on where & when it can go.

    • margaret Bartley

      Well, no.

      It drops you off in an extremely limited number of places. If that’s where you want to go, you’re set.

      Or you can stand in the cold, wind, and rain for anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes hoping another “limousine-like vehicle” will pick you up and get you closer to where you really want to be. And hope there is a place to sit that isn’t too close to those obnoxious riders.

      • Ken Griffey III

        grow up!

  • unuber

    When I moved here from India, I missed having a personal driver for $100/month that would drop me anywhere i wanted to go, a maid that came and cleaned or cooked everyday for $50/month or calling the local store or restaurant who had an errand boy drop off shaving blades, milk, eggs or food for no extra charge.

    I thought this was not possible in the US because labor is expensive in the US. Now that I think of it, its probably friction and marketplace overhead that make many of these services expensive. Uber is an example of how a sharing economy and an efficient marketplace can remove that friction. Maybe the middle-class will start enjoying these ‘luxuries’ in the US too.

  • Guest

    He’s not taking the bus because a, he doesn’t have to and b, the bus comes on a schedule whereas Uber comes when you call it. Additionally, for most bus rides the bus is slower. It has to stop often and always, no exceptions, and frankly speaking, if you’ve ridden the bus in downtown Seattle you know that there are lots of bus riders that you’d prefer not to sit next to.
    Uber 1, Bus 1/2

  • http://timandjeni.com/ Timothy Ellis

    Uber quotes fares of $22-$28 for trips between downtown and Madison Park. So, if Rich spent $410 in a week that comes out to about 16 rides, or 2 a day plus 2 extra trips through the week for things like picking up his kid school/soccer/whatever.

    Uber is very handy when you occasionally need it, but as a daily commute substitute I’m comfortable saying that it’s only acceptable if you have some serious cash to burn (as Rich does).

    $1,600+ a month is way more money than anyone I hang out with has available to spend on transportation. As pointed out by “Ken Griffey III,” for getting around core Seattle, especially to and from downtown, the bus is many orders of magnitude cheaper and just as effective if you bother planning even a little bit ahead.

    • margaret Bartley

      The bus is only useful if you do not have to transfer (most people do) and if you don’t have to run errands or attend meetings after work. In other words, no kids, no extra-curricular activities like volunteer work or civic involvement.

      If you go to work, come home, watch [TV | flicks | game | internet], go to bed, wake up and do it all over again, then the bus is OK. But not if you want a real life.

      • Ken Griffey III

        Hey Marge, I have a life. I play for the Seattle Mariners. So did both my fathers. We have an incredible legacy in this city.

  • Jim Masterson

    Anyone else just a little concerned about the lovefest on twitter between the owners/writers of Geekwire and Rich Barton — an exec running a company that a tech blog is supposed to be objectively covering? The guest post is fine…but the tweets are over the line.

  • Thomas R.

    Uber = Business/First Class
    Bus = Economy Class

    If some people have the means and choose to pay more for a transportation service that’s their prerogative. Quit ragging on Rich for being rich (lol) and choosing to spend his money on Uber and not taking the bus. Seriously the guy has taken 2 companies public and a few more are in the pipeline, he can do whatever the hell he wants with his money.

  • guest

    The most interesting part of this is the increase in walking. In major world cities like New York and London where not owning a car is considered quite normal walking is far more common than in Seattle. Having lived in both I can say that for any trip shorter than a kilometer I would almost always walk. But in Seattle people hesitate to walk from Pioneer Square to Pike Place Market. I have long wondered why that is.

    • Guest2

      I almost always walk when I’m in NY. It is a great walking city. Seattle, I’m not exactly sure why not but if I had to guess it would be because it is usually raining, it is hilly, and people freak out if you jay walk.
      In NY it seems like, ironically, people just want to get where they need to go and they are easier going about it.

  • Chris Farley

    Not trying to be snarky but this article causes me to twirl and sing “Rich guy in a little coat … rich guy in a little coat.”

    • David Spade

      Totally get your vibe here. But maybe consider “rich guy in little car”

  • Brooke Steger

    Not as classy of a ride, but uberX is half the price of BlackCar for those of you who are more price sensitive. I ride into downtown each morning with another person and fare split the trip, making it even more affordable. (I will also I work for Uber, but was a customer long before I was an employee)

  • ShreeM

    Well, I’m not sure about riding Uber to work, but I haven’t taken a taxi since I signed up for Uber a year ago. There is no substitute! Every ride on Uber is a joyful experience!