Uber or Grab? We test both in Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia both Uber and Grab dominate the ride-share scene. Both offer affordable transportation within most major cities. They’re particularly beneficial in countries where you don’t speak the language because you can type in the address in your native language on your phone and the app will automatically put it into the driver’s language in their phone.

In theory, these apps also eliminate any awkward haggling with drivers because the app sets the price for the trips.

However in our experience there was one clear winner. Here’s what happened when we tried both services:

Uber Attempt #1
We first tried using Uber in Bali when we arrived at the airport. It was late at night and we ran the gauntlet of aggressive drivers. Some even tried following us to the bathroom area. We already knew we were using Uber so we ignored them all and requested the driver to our hotel.

The app put the price at about 27,000 IDR (~$2), but wouldn’t take my credit cards. I reluctantly selected the cash option.

Apparently Uber is hated by some in Bali, which is dominated by private drivers and Bluebird taxi. The driver instructed us not to say we were meeting an Uber driver and head to the departure roadway to avoid the horde of drivers below. We compiled and waited. Soon the driver said he was there and we went to meet him, except he walked up to us first.

After learning where we were headed the driver instead demanded Rp 100,000 instead of what the app said. I balked and the driver walked away and taunted us for not selecting him as a driver. We then tried finding another driver, but they also refused to pick us up. Some had the courtesy to text us a rejection. Others just refused to move their car and waited for us to cancel.

It was now almost 1am so we just went to the gauntlet and selected a random driver to get us to the hotel.

Uber Attempt #2
Uber offers a service in Bali called UberTRIP. You get a driver for a minimum of 5 hours at a rate of Rp 1,000 per minute. Each additional minute is charged at the same rate up to 10 hours.

We selected the service for a trip from Kuta to Blue Lagoon and back. This time it accepted our credit card. Adi picked us up and brought us to the snorkeling spot without issue. We instructed him to wait a few hours so we can enjoy the beach then we would continue with our TRIP. The meter would run the entire time, but since it’s hard to get a driver near Blue Lagoon this was the easiest and most convenient way to travel.

After a few hours of snorkeling, we arrived back at the parking lot to find Adi was missing. I thought maybe he went into town to get lunch so I checked the app for his location only to find he closed out the ride.

This to me is a GLARING flaw in the app. A driver should not have the power to end the trip, but rather it should be a joint decision between passenger and driver.

Now stranded we saw there were no other drivers in the area so we decided to wait a bit and consider other options. Fortunately another Uber driver appeared on the screen 15 minutes away so we immediately selected it.

Edit note: Uber refunded a portion of this trip after we filed a complaint. They later agreed to a full refund after we filed a chargeback with our credit card company. 

Uber Attempt 2.5
Muhammad arrived after 20 minutes to take us back to the hotel. He is a loyal Uber driver who was clearly frustrated by the other driver’s abandonment. Muhammad apologized and said some drivers don’t understand the app. He also explained some of the flaws in the app that are frustrating drivers.

Apparently, drivers don’t know where their potential passenger is heading until after they accept the trip. This means some drivers who have been waiting hours at the airport for a ride may end up with a short trip. Instead they just wait for passengers to cancel so they can wait for a longer, and more lucrative trip.

Muhammad understands how the app is supposed to work. In this case he had a passenger going from Kuta to Blue Lagoon. Then we were going back to Kuta. He ends up with more money than if he had just one passenger all day going the same route because his vehicle is in use the entire time.

It seems some drivers are just tied to the old way and can’t wrap their heads around this.

Muhammad was a pleasure and even stopped (meter running) at the bat cave that was along the way back.

Made Dodi Private Driver 

The following day we arranged a driver through Made Dodi’s service (http://www.madedodi.com/) to Ubud . The driver spoke fluent English, gave great information and patiently waited as we made all the stops we wanted.

He did suggest some attractions that are known kickback schemes, but didn’t seem to mind when we politely declined.

It cost Rp 100,000 (~$7) more than UberTRIP, but removed the hassle we experienced. I highly recommend them if you need a driver for a full day of exploration. Their airport service is overpriced.

Grab Attempt #1
GrabBike drivers in Bangkok
Frustrated with Uber, we downloaded Grab to get to the airport. The app was intuitive and accepted my credit card on the first try.

The fare, at Rp 33,000, was actually cheaper than what Uber quoted at Rp 50,000.

Andri arrived quickly to take us to the airport. Although he didn’t speak any English, the app showed him exactly where we were going. He didn’t try to charge us more money or bring us to souvenir stands that give a kickback. Instead, he dropped us off exactly where we wanted.

Overall, it was a great experience.

Grab Attempt #2
In Bangkok, Grab has allied itself with the taxi drivers. This means you can request a metered taxi with Grab or you can request a GrabCar, which is just a driver. I found the taxi was often the cheapest price, but you couldn’t apply promo codes to those rides.

After our first use with Grab they started offering me promo codes for GrabCar. Often it brought the price down lower than a taxi.

We decided to use it for a quick ride to the docks to get a water taxi. It took about 10 minutes for Tada to navigate Bangkok traffic to our location. She also didn’t speak much English, but dutifully followed the app exactly where we requested.

The ride was ฿92, but with the promo code we only paid ฿32 (~$1). Again this was slightly cheaper than Uber, but we didn’t consider it given the past experience.

Grab Attempt #3
Given the two prior positive experiences we decided to take Grab to the airport from our hotel. This time I didn’t have any promo codes so I decided to use GrabTaxi, which gives a range of price since it uses the meter in addition to the ฿25 booking fee.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any drivers to respond. I presume it’s because there weren’t many inbound flights so they were concerned about a lack of return fares.

Instead, we decided to hail a cab. That driver tried to charge us ฿500 off meter. I got him to turn it on and it came to ฿351 with toll, about ฿50 higher than GrabTaxi’s lowest quoted price. 

Verdict
Hands-down Grab is the winner. Its drivers are professional and never tried to run tourist scams on us. They provided safe transportation where we wanted to go and ultimately that’s what you want. Furthermore, their prices were often a tad lower than Uber’s for regular drivers and they offered better/more frequent promo codes to maintain loyalty.

Uber’s customer service was terrible. They didn’t leave me feeling a true investigation would be conducted into the behavior of its drivers. It took multiple emails to get them to stop sending form responses and actually consider a refund for the trip where the driver abandoned us.
Uber or Grab? We test both in Southeast Asia Uber or Grab? We test both in Southeast Asia Reviewed by Brandon on December 27, 2017 Rating: 5

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