Uber in Medellín: 7 Ways the Service Offers a Superior Experience

Medellín Uber rates

Editor’s Note: Sign up for Uber and enter the promo code ML2015 to get 75,000 pesos worth of free credit (three rides worth a max of 25,000 pesos each) in Medellín. Offer applies to new accounts only.

“I’m calling an Uber,” I said to my paisa date as we were preparing to leave Los Contenedores, a collection of trendy restaurants built within shipping containers in Envigado.

Confused about why we needed to wait several minutes for a ride when there was a constant flow of taxis heading south on Avenida Las Vegas, I explained to her “Uber is a new service, it’s better, you’ll see!”

Using Uber’s app, I tracked the arrival of our ride, a clean white SUV with tinted windows. Upon confirming the license plate on the vehicle matched what was indicated in the app, we got inside.

The driver promptly greeted us and offered the standard bottle of water, before I gave him instructions to head for Parque Sabaneta. As we got underway, he asked if the temperature was okay and what kind of music we wanted to hear.

As this was occurring, my date was having a visible “ah ha” moment, the same one I experienced with my first Uber ride in Medellín. Sipping from the now open bottle of water, she noted there was no meter like you see in taxis.

By the time we arrived in Sabaneta, she was asking the driver to quote a monthly rate based on her daily commute.

January 2015 marked the official launch of Uber, a San Francisco-based mobile app that offers an alternative to taking taxis, in Medellín. The month before, Uber made headlines when it was valued at over $41 billion (four times the value of Airbnb).

Since mid-February, I’ve taken 42 rides (50 by the time you read this story). I’m confident once you experience the difference in safety, comfort and convenience offered by Uber in Medellín, you’ll agree with these seven ways it’s a superior service to taxis.

VW Amarok

Several of my Uber rides have been in a VW Amarok

1. Safety

Staying safe is paramount in Medellín, making it reason number one I prefer Uber.

Increased Privacy

As a consequence of being robbed by thieves on a motorbike while riding in a taxi, I now associate the rinky-dink yellow compact cars with a sense of vulnerability. They’re low to the ground and rarely have tinted windows, making it easy for thieves to see inside.

I don’t imagine their light frames fair well in serious traffic accidents either.

By comparison, Uber’s vehicle requirements for their original service (the only one available in Medellín at this time) are such that about 80 percent of my rides have been in either large pick-up trucks or SUVs, almost all featuring tinted windows.

The remaining 20 percent have been in cars, most of which featured tinted windows as well.

Conservative Driving

On the whole, I also feel taxis drive too aggressively here. On more than one occasion, I’ve felt so unsafe I’ve asked the driver to slow down or relax. Sometimes they take their foot off the gas and other times they chuckle and proceed at full speed.

As a customer, I have no recourse aside from asking the driver to stop and let me out, a massive inconvenience and potentially dangerous request depending on the hour and neighborhood. The driver has no incentive to change as it’s unlikely he’ll ever see me again.

Thus far, my Uber drivers have been noticeably more conservative in how they drive. When I asked one driver whether they were trained to take it slow, he said no, however, it’s in their best interest to drive safely (otherwise they risk poor ratings and reviews).

Why Women Prefer Uber

I’m not alone in viewing Uber as a safer alternative. One driver told me 70 percent of his customers are women, especially on the weekends (when they’re out late partying).

It should come as little surprise that Colombia’s macho culture leads to the sexual harassment (and in some instances, the drugging) of women by taxi drivers. I’ve gotten a glimpse of this when some of my male drivers (and 99.9 percent of my taxi drivers have been male) whistle at or comment toward women on the street.

As I’ll discuss below, Uber’s user rating system encourages a more professional level of service and gives riders a way to report inappropriate behavior. Too low a score or too many complaints and the driver is fired.

A Renault Duster

A Renault Duster

2. Comfort

As I already mentioned, Uber maintains certain standards when it comes to vehicles. This is a part of their allure and why users like me are willing to pay a small premium.

When a driver accepts your request through the app, you’ll immediately see his photo, name and model of car, so you know what to look out for while you wait.

Typical vehicles include:

  • Renault Duster (SUV)
  • Daihatsu Terios (compact SUV)
  • Chevrolet D-Max (extended cab pick-up truck)

I’ve also ridden in several VW Amarok trucks and a Jetta. Most vehicles have been white. And the majority of my drivers have also been the vehicle’s owner, which means they’re more inclined to keep it clean and operating well.

Tinted Windows

Almost every vehicle I’ve used has had tinted windows, offering protection from the sun and increased privacy. Sometimes the shade is so dark I can’t see inside even when I’m standing directly outside the door.

After the robbery, I’d stopped using my cell phone in taxis for fear of thieves targeting me. Between the larger ground clearance of SUVs and pick-ups and the tinted windows, I’ve been able to relax and not feel I’m putting myself at risk if I want to send a text message.

Air Conditioning

Once I started rolling my windows up in taxis for safety reasons, it began to get hot and stuffy.

I can count on one hand the times since 2009 I’ve been in a cab anywhere in Colombia with the air conditioning turned on. Almost all prefer to have their windows down instead.

With Uber, I have the opposite experience. The drivers ask about my comfort, and if I prefer air conditioning. During the day, I almost always say yes. This allows me to have the windows up for security and not sacrifice comfort.

Free Water

The offer of a free bottled water (or in some instances, iced tea) is a small but appreciated touch. I accept roughly two-thirds of the time unless I’m on my way to/from a meal.

Uber ride history

Uber ride history

3. Cashless Transactions

In the United States, the speed and efficiency of financial transactions are continually improving. The goal is to create a frictionless consumer experience.

Colombia and most Latin countries lag years behind in adopting these new technologies, and as a result, are still predominantly cash-based economies.

Sign up for Uber and you’re tapping into an efficiency from the U.S. in Medellín.

All that’s required when you set up your account is a valid debit or credit card. Each ride is then automatically charged to your account upon completion, allowing you to quickly exit the vehicle at your destination.

This is a fantastic benefit for many reasons:

  • No more fussing with cash to pay for every ride.
  • Eliminates the need to carry small bills (taxis often have trouble changing 50,000 peso and even 20,000 peso bills). Unlike in the U.S., none are set up to accept plastic.
  • Uber drivers don’t expect tips. Therefore, you’re no longer left wondering whether to tip, and if so, how much. (Note: not all taxi drivers give exact change either, some round up assuming you won’t miss a few coins.) You do, however, have the option to set a flat tip rate within the Uber app.
  • You avoid the situation where you accidentally spend all your cash on drinks and have to borrow money from a friend to get home.
  • You avoid the awkwardness of handing a date money for her taxi. Going a step further, you can even send her home in an Uber knowing the fare will be automatically charged to your account.

These automated transactions naturally lead to another benefit.

Uber receipt

Uber receipt

4. Electronic Receipts

Uber’s app automatically emails the account holder an electronic receipt for every ride. It includes the time, date, a clear breakdown of the fare, driver and a map showing the start and end points.

This is great for me as I track Uber rides for business purposes so I can claim them as an expense on my taxes.

You can view a history of every ride you’ve ever paid for on both the mobile app and website.

Sign up for Uber and enter the promo code ML2015 to get 75,000 pesos worth of free credit (three rides worth a max of 25,000 pesos each) in Medellín. Offer applies to new accounts only.

5. Rate and Review Drivers

Amazon, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Hostelworld. These sites have revolutionized the ability for consumers to make educated purchasing decisions based on user ratings and reviews.

Uber’s app requires every rider to rate their driver before he/she can ask for another ride.

Drivers who enjoy working for Uber have every reason to treat the customer well to keep a consistently high rating. To receive consistently low ratings risks loss of employment.

Likewise, drivers have the ability to rate riders, which encourages the customers to treat the drivers with respect.

While not yet enabled in Medellín, if a driver or passenger rates the other with fewer than three stars, Uber’s software ensures the two will not be paired again.

I’ve given 95 percent of drivers a five-star rating, and the remaining 5 percent four-star ratings because they either had trouble finding where to pick me up or needed help with directions.

Lack of knowledge about the city is a minor growing pain and to be expected, as most of the drivers working for Uber are doing so as a second source of income.

The majority of my drivers have had a professional background, worked for the city or are university students (one was studying medicine, another environmental engineering).

6. Customer Service

When I invited my friend Don to visit the park in Ciudad del Rio one Sunday afternoon with his dog Ringo, I offered to send them both back to Envigado in an Uber so he could experience the service.

After confirming a ride, I called the driver and asked if he was okay with having a dog in his SUV. He responded “sure, I love dogs.”

Upon arrival, he offered to set out a blanket so Ringo could lay on the back seat though Don waved him off, saying Ringo would be fine sitting on the floor. Per Uber’s policy, it’s at the driver’s discretion as to whether he/she will transport pets. I suspect most are fine with it.

At this point, it should be clear that customer service is central to the Uber experience. From the quality of vehicles to the disposition of the drivers, there’s no comparison between Uber’s service and that of taxis.

Drivers have every incentive to treat the customer well, which is not the case if you’re hailing taxis from the street, calling for pick-up or using other apps like Easy Taxi.

7. Low Cost

You might think with all the benefits I’ve outlined, Uber would be cost prohibitive for those living on a budget in Medellín.

I was surprised to find that’s not at all the case. The cost for the current service is marginally more expensive than taxis while the quality of service is much higher.

In February, I spent a total of 243,000 pesos on 23 rides, averaging 10,565 pesos per ride. Given the current strength of the U.S. Dollar, that works out to $90 total and an average of $3.91 per ride.

Even if the exchange were 2,000 pesos to the dollar, we’re still only talking an average of $5 per ride.

On the topic of pricing, it’s worth mentioning that Uber’s algorithm is designed to work within urban settings. Longer trips are based on flat rates, which are still subject to tweaking as Uber works to set up a fair rate based on driver feedback.

For example, a ride from Medellín to Jose Maria Cordova International Airport is a flat 75,000 pesos ($28) with Uber vs. 60,000 pesos ($22.40) via taxi. A ride from Medellín to Guatape is 160,000 pesos ($60). See more flat rates here.

As the market matures, Uber will introduce additional service tiers appealing to a wider range of budgets, including UberX, a no frills option cheaper than taxis. Check out the four options in Bogotá for a glimpse of the future.

Uber Promo code

Special Offer for Medellín Living Readers

Medellín Living, in partnership with Uber, is excited to offer new users the chance to experience Uber’s service in Medellín at no cost.

Signing up is easy. Follow these simple steps and start using Uber today:

  1. Click here to create an account.
  2. Fill in your details. Note: Only debit cards with the Visa or Mastercard logos are accepted.
  3. Click “Add A Promo Code” at the bottom of the form.
  4. Enter ML2015 for the promotion code.
  5. Click the “Create Account” button.
  6. Download the app from the App Store, Google Play or Windows Store and sign into your account.

Now you can enjoy your first three Uber rides with a maximum value of 25,000 pesos per ride at no cost. While it’s unlikely you’ll exceed 25,000 pesos for an average trip, any overage will be charged to your card.

Have you used Uber in Medellín, or anywhere in Colombia? Share your experience in the Comments below.

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About Dave

David is the Editor in Chief of Medellín Living. Connect with him on Facebook and Google+.

Comments

  1. A very well written article. I would have been afraid to use Uber, but now, when we are there, I will try it.

  2. I am creating my new account and i’ve noticed it does not accept a debit (maestro) card, only credit cards, veiry and correct. Thanks for your blog.

    • I obtained clarification.

      Uber “doesn’t accept debit cards that do not have a VISA or Mastercard logo. So no Maestros or Visa Electrons. Credit cards from all over the world should work.”

  3. Just wanted to echo what a great option Uber is. Here in Bogota Uber X is available and would be a dynamite option. There’s even an Uber van option for bringing larger items home. I would love to hear if anyone knows if the prepaid debit type cards could possibly be accepted? The problem with using a Canadian card is of course getting hit with exchange fees, and then paying a Canadian card balance off when earning in pesos. Seems almost like a double hit. But would sure love to start replacing taxi use with Uber! Used it in Toronto and was so amazing, similar to the experiences in the article! All A+

  4. I second the above, a well presented and researched article and I will sign up for my other half.

  5. I loved your article! Thanks so much. I represent a Hospitality company in Medellin and would love to give you a introduction to our services. Would you be interested in working together in Medellin on future projects we have in mind? Let me know and keep up the great work!

  6. Thanks bro

  7. I saw in the news yesterday that Uber cars are being threatened by Taxi drivers in Bogotá. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-20/uber-drivers-threatened-in-bogota-as-colombia-taxi-war-heats-up. Also the Superintendent of Transportation in Colombia issued a circular in January that indicates that Uber drivers need to have a contract with a tour company, hotel, school or company to operate and called for a halt to private cars and white or special transport vehicles continuing to operate as taxis. I understand this isn’t really being enforced but Uber has some big issues to deal with in Colombia.

    • Jeff,

      Thanks for sharing this article. It’s ironic that a minority of taxi drivers are using fear, intimidation and violence in order to convince people they should use taxis instead. This will only serve to accelerate people’s adoption of Uber.

      Uber in Colombia is actively lobbying for an update to the country’s law’s governing private transport, which is no different from their policy initiatives in cities around the world (even in the United States).

      On the topic of whether Uber is legal in Colombia, my point of contact in Medellín informed me:

      – We are a legal constitute company in Colombia
      – The constitution of 2001 did not regulate tech companies
      – We are working with the government to create a regulation

      Uber es una sociedad legalmente constituida en Colombia cuya actividad económica (technology) aun no cuenta con un marco regulatorio existente debido a que la tecnología usada no existía hace algunos años atrás cuando estos marcos regulatorios se crearon y estamos trabajando con las autoridades locales y nacionales para crear un marco regulatorio en el 2015.

      I also think Ospina’s suggestion that poor taxi experiences in Bogotá is exaggerated is a joke. The fact is I’ve had many subpar experiences in Medellín but unless a driver actually does something to threaten me directly (vs just driving aggressively), I’m not going to take the time to document his info and call to complain.

      And I’m sure many women who are sexually harassed are only concerned with getting out of the taxi as quickly and safely as possible (not calling the taxi company or police to file a complaint).

      • The article mentions that taxi licenses in Bogotá trade on a secondary markets for about $40,000 so taxi drivers and taxi companies have a real gripe if Uber comes in and takes business away without needing similar licenses to operate. The problem is old taxi licensing regulations put in place before the Internet and smartphones. Uber has encountered regulatory opposition all over the world and has been banned in several places including Nevada, Thailand, the Netherlands and Delhi, India.

        • Yes, I certainly agree there are issues in terms of regulation and existing laws that need to be resolved. The sooner the Colombian and municipal governments can weigh in, the better for everyone involved. I believe a compromise will be reached, with neither Uber nor the taxi association getting everything they want.

          As a consumer, I would happily pay a 50 percent premium over the current cost of Uber based on the experience I’ve had so far. EasyTaxi and Tappsi are fine taxi apps, but they don’t change the kind of vehicle being driven. If they include a rating system for drivers, it may start to have a positive impact on customer service.

          Uber is the latest case of a technology company competing in industries that have relied on the status quo for doing business. Napster (and later iTunes) turned the music industry upside down. Netflix did the same for renting movies. And Airbnb is serious competition for hotels and B&B’s.

          New companies like these will continue to be funded and grow quickly because they provide choice and efficiencies that didn’t previously exist.

          Given enough time, this is a moot discussion. Google has expressed a desire to see self-driving cars on the road in the U.S. by 2020, and while I expect it’ll be decades before they’re more widely adopted, especially in less-developed nations, they’ll eventually replace most taxi (and Uber) drivers.

          P.S. – I’ve read that medallions in New York City can cost $800,000 (down from over $1 million a few years ago).

          • I hope the service can weather the storm but if it doesn’t is it possible to hire a personal driver in Medellin? Any idea what the cost would be?

  8. Indeed a good services even experienced in India as well, however, get entrapped into recently into a controversy and emerged for it. Indeed a very good promising services even in India as well.

  9. Planning a trip down south here soon and as an avid user of Uber here in the States, I honestly had no idea that it was available in Colombia, this is very exciting. So funny that theses taxi commissions will go to such length to deter Uber from setting up shop where if they just improved their service and attitude they could be competing with Uber instead of trying to cheat.

    • Yes, Uber is now available in 4 Colombian cities (Bogota, Cali, Medellin and Barranquilla).

      Considering it’s only available in 11 total cities in Central and South America right now (another 4 of which are in Brazil), Colombia comes off as being pro-Uber from at least the consumer perspective.

      • David I have uber in the United States will my uber work when I’m in Columbia… or can I use the one I have here or do I have to download the app when I get to Columbia?

        • You can use the same Uber app, no need to download anything new. You’ll need to have an internet connection, so while you could try to rely on Wi-fi, I recommend either using coverage through a plan you have in the U.S. or if you have an unlocked phone, buying a local SIM card when you get to Colombia (Claro is the biggest provider).

        • We used Uber in Bogata and Medellin last July on my Verizon Android phone app. It worked great and Uber was fantastic for our family of four. The only thing you need to do is make sure that you purchase a data plan for your phone prior to leaving so that your phone will be able to use the same app you use in the US.

  10. I am visiting Medellin soon. Is my US Uber app the one I would use in Medellin? Yes, it’s a great service and very popular in the US. Thanks for your article (and newsletter). Both are very informative.

    • Yes, Susan, as far as I know it’s one Uber app for any city you visit that offers the service. Of course, you’ll need a connection to the internet, either through your U.S. sim card (roaming), a local sim card (Claro or Tigo) or a Wi-Fi connection.

      • Rebecca LaCount says:

        Thanks for the article! I’m excited to know that Uber is available in Medellin. I use it all the time in the States. Usually the driver calls if he or she can’t find you, etc. Do you know if it will work if I have a U.S. cell phone number connected to my app? Will I need to get a Colombian phone?

  11. I just signed up and was pleasantly surprised to discover that this coupon code actually worked! Thanks Dave! Really excellent service! I won’t be going back to the little yellow death traps!

  12. Just wanted to say thanks for the promo code. Worked like a charm. 🙂

  13. Hola David,

    Coming down to Medellin with the family of 4 for the first time in June. We are all over Uber here in the US (for many or the same reasons you cited) and have successfully used the app in several cities. Cannot wait to try it in a foreign country. Will have a few days in Bogota to check it out before getting to Medellin. Do you know if we can use the service from MDE into Poblano?

    • Hi,

      To add to this, we are arriving late night at MDE. Are Uber’s very prevalent at all hours in the airport?

      Love this site!

      Thanks

  14. Hi David,

    I’ll be arriving tomorrow around 8am into Medellin airport from JFK. I would like to use Uber but how would I be able to use my phone without service? Do they have a Wifi at the airport so I can request Uber? If Uber isn’t possible what do you suggest is my next best option.. car service recommendations?

    thanks,
    Ryan

    • I do believe there is Wifi at the airport but it never seems to work for me. Even if you could connect, I’m not sure it’s possible to call an Uber from the airport (you’d have to be lucky and catch one dropping someone off that’s still in the area).

      I’d suggest arranging an airport pickup with http://medellincityservices.com which charges about the same rate as Uber (75,000 pesos or so).

      • Thanks for the advice David! My family will be arriving in Columbia in a few weeks and I will check out the Uber service and post my experiences. I have the Uber app on my Verizon Android phone and will attempt to negotiate Uber, first in Bogota, then in Medellin. Will have to see what combo of cellular data service and wifi will free the Uber genie from the bottle. Also, will check out service to/from airports. Cannot wait to visit Medellin. FYI: 36 Hours in Medellin article was in the NYT travel section last Sunday.

        Cheers!

  15. Carter Hollinger says:

    Hi David,
    When ordering an Uber car, the driver usually calls you to confirm and let you know when he is arriving. Is there an issue with this when using an American number?

    • I vaguely remember an Uber driver saying yes, it has caused some confusion. I don’t know a way to avoid them needing to confirm the pickup address, unless you proactively contact them by phone or SMS text with your exact address (which is what I do).

  16. Is the promotion still valid?

  17. Hi Dave! The only thing I have never been able to find with uber is to set a time to be picked up. Do you know if this is a possibility?

  18. Christopher says:

    Thanks for this amazing info! I will be in Medellin next week for the first time and although I use Uber here in the States I was unsure if it was the right move while in Medellin, well I have my answer thanks to you.

  19. Mike Traveler says:

    This is good to know. I will be in the area for 1-2 months this fall and I was worried about taking a taxi. I will likely take Uber everywhere around Medellin and Envigado, maybe even for some trips outside the city.

    Is it possible to have Uber send me a driver every morning at the same time?

  20. In a place like Bogota, I maybe see the use of Uber. In Medellin, I don’t get it. It’s not cheaper, and with the amount of respect and politeness I receive from just about every taxi driver here, I don’t see how it’d be an upgrade. Then again, this seems to be a case of Americans wanting to travel but expecting American style pampering again. Soon everyone will be crying that the driver wouldn’t put on their Britney or the water wasn’t Evian even though they shelled out a full $3 for the ride.

    And if you prefer playing it safer, which if course I get, use an app like Tappsi to hail a cab.

    Don’t get me wrong, great article though 🙂

    • Not sure what “American-style-pampering” is since America has 3 or 4 hundred million folks. Uber is great and many cabs are, too. Use what works for you and bring your own water!

  21. Great article!

    I didn’t try Uber in Colombia…yet…but I spoke to someone who used Uber a lot in Medellin. He said that the drivers and passengers had to hide the fact that this was a Uber trip because the risk that local taxi drivers would act out against the Uberites. He said that he rode in the front seat and there was no Uber sign on the car as part of the precautions. (I would guess that a pick up at the airport would worry the most about cab drivers.)

    I really should use Uber when in a place like Cali just for the A/C and tinted windows!

    But when I retire to Medellin I was thinking about driving an electric car or CNG vehicle for Uber. I wonder how good my Spanish will have to be for that?

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