I regularly use Uber in Bogota, and am a big fan. However, wherever Uber arrives in the world, it seems to bring controversy along with it! Licensed taxi drivers claim that Uber drivers are unskilled, steal their customers and avoid paying costs that taxi owners have to pay. In Bogota, taxi drivers refer to Uber drivers as ‘pirates’. and have been known to vandalise their cars and get them into trouble with the police. But as far as I can tell, Uber has always thrived because, like any successful business, it offers something that’s missing in the rest of the market.
Why has Uber thrived in Bogota?
In previous posts, I have discussed the reputation of Bogota’s taxi drivers and given tips for taking taxis in Bogota. My final tip was – Choose Uber! And to this day I still believe that Uber is the best option. Uber initially thrived in Bogota because the service offered by the yellow taxi drivers was often so poor. From aggressive behaviour, to dangerous driving, to tampered-with taxi-meters, I found there was almost always a problem whenever I travelled by taxi. I became so tired of it that I started using a private car service that charged by the hour (this was in the days before Uber). It was much more expensive (25,000 pesos/hour at the time) but I preferred to pay more and have a stress-free journey.
Enter Uber. It was as easy to order an Uber using the mobile app as it was to order a taxi using Tappsi. In the beginning, there was only what we now call ‘Uber Black’; this was a bit more expensive than taking a taxi but much cheaper than the private car service I had been using. Eventually ‘Uber X’ was launched in Bogota, which made journeys as cheap or cheaper than the yellow taxis, but the service was almost always better.
In a nutshell, Uber drivers in Bogota knew that all they had to do to gain clients was to offer the good service that most yellow taxi drivers weren’t offering. There was a boom in the number of people choosing to use Uber in Bogota instead of the taxis, and this led to protests and strikes by the taxi drivers, who demanded that Uber be made illegal.
Is Uber illegal in Colombia?
The short answer is yes. But the law rarely presents much of an obstacle in Colombia and Uber drivers continue to operate as they always have done. They are just careful when it comes to stopping in areas where there are a lot of taxis or where there’s a police presence.
Why did they make Uber illegal?
To operate a yellow taxi in Bogota, the taxi owners (often not the ones driving the taxis) have to pay around 90 million pesos (30,000 US dollars at the time of writing) for a taxi license. This is the main and possibly most valid argument against Uber in Bogota. Uber drivers only need a car, a mobile phone, the Uber app and they’re good to go. They pay 25% commission to Uber for each journey and keep the rest. Taxi owners feel that this is unfair given the amount they have to pay for their license.
Taxi drivers also claim that Uber is stealing their customers. Many Uber drivers use Uber as an additional income, or as a temporary in-between job while they’re out of work. For taxi drivers, this is their full-time, long-term job, so they should have priority. I don’t really accept this argument; the reason Uber has done so well is because the service is far better. All the yellow taxi drivers would have to do to up their game is behave better on the roads. After all, it’s usually easier to hail a taxi from the street than order and wait for an Uber – but people’s trust in taxi drivers fell to an all-time low a few years ago, and the drivers will need to work hard to earn back that trust.
Another argument against Uber is that it takes advantage of people who are unemployed by charging a 25% commission. Many people consider this figure to be exploitative considering that yellow taxi drivers pay as little as 6% commission for finding customers through taxi apps such as Tappsi, EasyTaxi or Smart Taxi. There is probably some truth in this, although some would argue that Uber drivers accept this commission in exchange for being able to earn an additional income on their own terms.
So… to Uber or not to Uber in Bogota?
Overall, I think Uber is the best option for getting around in Bogota if you don’t have a TransMilenio stop nearby. The advantages of Uber are that the cars are normally more comfortable than the cramped yellow taxis, the drivers usually drive better and there’s no way they can trick you by charging you a higher fare or by deliberately taking you on a longer route to your destination.
The disadvantages, other than the arguments listed above, are that Uber operates a price surge or tarifa dinámica, usually at rush hour or when there’s a greater demand for the service (e.g. when it’s raining). This means that you can end up paying double or even triple the fare you’d normally pay. This is not the case with the yellow taxis, where there is a fixed night charge, Sunday charge and airport charge. Furthermore, Uber drivers can be inexperienced and as a result sometimes get a bit lost. I have been on journeys where Google Maps or Waze wasn’t working properly and because the driver wasn’t familiar with my neighbourhood it took a very long time to get home. Uber drivers will also almost always ask you to sit in the front passenger seat, so that the car doesn’t look like an Uber – I don’t mind doing this if I’m travelling alone but it’s a bit annoying if I’m travelling with someone else and one person has to sit in the front and the other in the back.
Top tip for using Uber in Bogota
In my experience, if a driver has a rating of 4.6 or below, there will be some kind of problem with the service. The driver might be unfamiliar with the city and be driving with their phone on their lap, spending more time looking at the map than at the road; they might get a bit lost making the journey time longer; they might be unfriendly or talk on their mobile phone while they’re driving; or they might drive recklessly. So usually if I get a driver with a rating of 4.6 or below, I will cancel the service straightaway and order again. Sometimes you’ll get the same driver again, so it will be up to you whether you want to accept or not. If it’s a short journey, you’re probably ok.
I’ve rarely had problems with drivers rated 4.7 or higher, with the exception of drivers that have a rating of 5.0. This usually indicates that they are new drivers, and so haven’t worked enough to get a representative rating yet. Just last week I took an Uber with a driver with a 5.0 rating, and the guy had no idea where he was going and stopped in the middle of one of Bogota’s busiest roads when his phone fell on the floor. So in terms of rating, aim for 4.7-4.8.
If there’s a price surge, you might want to consider having the Tappsi or EasyTaxi applications on standby, and order a yellow taxi, so that you don’t end up paying an extortionate amount for your journey.
What’s been your experience of Uber in Bogota? Are you a satisfied customer? Do you prefer the yellow taxis? Add your comments below!