Uber is a viable alternative to using taxis in Medellín and several other cities in Colombia. We provide this guide to using Uber in Medellín, Bogotá and other cities in Colombia. Uber exited Colombia on February 1, 2020 but after three weeks returned on February 20, 2020.
Getting around in Medellín is fairly easy compared to other Latin American cities. You have the famous Medellín metro system with its rail, tram-line and cable car lines as well as extensive bus routes in the city.
Also, in Bogotá, you have the Transmilenio elongated bus system as well as many other normal bus routes. Other cities in Colombia also have public transport systems including some other cities like Pereira and Cali with elongated bus systems and all have extensive bus routes.
But if you don’t fancy public transport very much and don’t want to own a car, you’re going to take a taxi, right? However, Uber is a viable option to taxis.
Note the above photo is an Uber ride in Bogotá, Colombia with the driver running the app on his dashboard-mounted smartphone, photo by Alexander Torrenegra.
Editors note: Colombia ordered Uber to cease its ride-hailing operations in Colombia in late 2019, effective immediately, after a judge ruled the company violated competition rules. And Uber on January 10, 2020, decided to exit the Colombia market with its last day on January 31, 2020. So, starting on February 1, 2020, Uber was no longer be an option in Colombia.
Uber Returns to Colombia With a New Rental Model
On February 20, 2020, starting at 8:00 am, Uber returned to Colombia with a new model. Uber notified through a statement that its return was linked to a reinvention of the company.
Users and drivers reported on social networks like Facebook the enablement of Uber with services called: UberYA and Comfort. While this is a surprise measure, it could be a temporary solution for Uber’s operation in Colombia while legislative proposals in Colombia move forward.
Until January 31, 2020, Uber functioned as an app that connected drivers with users, a technological intermediation. Now, with the return on February 20, the Uber app works subtly different as a solution for users to contract with third parties who provide their vehicle for rent with a driver.
The new linking model allows Uber to be a provider of a private leasing service between the end user and the driver of the vehicle. Uber said in a statement:
The model will allow to lease a vehicle with a driver, under an agreement between the parties at the time of the call. The application will be the contact point that connects the two parties to enter into a contract between them.
According to El Tiempo, the legal strategy was advanced directly from the Uber headquarters. So in Colombia, Uber is using a loophole, where users directly hire drivers using the app.
The Uber app enabled several options on February 20, which include the rental of vehicles for hours if a user wants a fee based on an amount of time. In addition, it activated: a category of private transport, an option of economic transport and a premium service:
- PorHoras – you can rent a vehicle with a driver and pay for the time you use it.
- UberYA – on demand, you can rent a vehicle with a driver to move around the city in an agile and reliable way.
- Economy – allows you to rent vehicles with a driver and less recent vehicle models may be available for rent at a lower price. Available only in some cities of Colombia.
- Comfort – the premium alternative that allows you to rent more modern vehicles with driver, for a more comfortable experience.
- UberXL – allows you to rent larger vehicles with drivers for groups or for more passengers with suitcases using vehicles with more space than normal cars.
Caution, make sure to read the new Uber user contract with the driver carefully. Press reports (in Spanish) indicate that the user is now responsible for paying fines and even tow trucks for the Uber driver.
Taxis in Medellín and Other Cities in Colombia
Taxis are abundant in Medellín. At times it seems that up to 40 or 50 percent of the cars on the road in Medellín are yellow taxis. And this website has a Medellín taxi guide with more details about using taxis in Medellín.
Taxis are also common in other cities in Colombia. Also, in many cities in Colombia the taxis are metered. But in some cities like Barranquilla, Cartagena and Santa Marta the taxis aren’t even metered.
In addition, the overall quality of taxis in Medellín and other cities in Colombia is… let’s say… it takes a little getting used to. Or in my case I’ve not yet gotten used to it.
Here are three reasons why the experience in a yellow taxi in Colombia may not be the best:
Taxi Issue #1: Small Vehicles
Most of the taxis in Colombia are very small vehicles. The three most common vehicle models used for taxis in Colombia are the Hyundai Atos, Chevrolet Matiz and Kia Picanto. The small cars are used due to their fuel economy.
However, these small cars used for taxis I personally don’t feel are very safe.
Taxi Issue #2: Vehicle Defects?
As a former auto mechanic, I have developed something that’s called “behind-o-meter”.
So, when I sit in a taxi in Colombia I’m frequently able to tell what may be broken, just from the vibrations while sitting in the seat. While some taxis are new, many others are older taxis that may have some defects.
And unfortunately, it’s not rare that my behind-o-meter makes me want to run out of the taxi in Colombia because I get overwhelmed with possible defects in the car.
Taxi Issue #3: Taxi Drivers
Defects in a car is one thing, but my experience shows that a lot of taxi drivers in Medellín and other cities in Colombia drive kind of crazy. This is what bothers me the most while taking a yellow taxi.
In my experience, the quality of driving is horrible from many of taxi drivers in Medellín and other cities in Colombia. Let me just make sure, there are a lot of responsible taxi drivers in Medellín and other cities in Colombia. For example, I was in a taxi yesterday and the taxi driver offered a great service.
But my experience time and time again is that many taxi drivers in Medellín and other cities in Colombia seem to drive like “crazy”.
This includes fast lane changing, trying to fit in small spaces while driving 50 mph (80 km/h) or having no distance from the car in front, whatsoever.
So, is there an alternative if you don’t want to use public transport and if you want to avoid driving in a small clattering yellow taxi with maybe a somewhat crazy driver?
Yes, there is and it’s called Uber.
More About Uber
Uber is a peer-to-peer ride-sharing/transportation company headquartered in San Francisco, California in the United States. The company has grown to where it operates in over 780 cities worldwide. And the company reportedly completes over 15 million trips daily and it has over 3 million drivers.
The company arrived in Colombia in 2013 and is currently present in 12 cities in Colombia with nearly 90,000 drivers in Colombia and more than 2.3 million users. However, Uber likely lost many drivers and customers over the first three weeks of February 2020 when the company turned off its service in Colombia.
Uber is reportedly available only in the following cities in Colombia:
So, if traveling to a smaller city or town in Colombia, the service is not an option.
Advantages – 10 Reasons Why Uber is a Superior Experience
If you are in one of the larger cities in Colombia that has service, here are 10 reasons why Uber offers a superior experience to taxis:
1. Quality of the Vehicles
As I said in the section above, one thing I am interested in is the technical quality of the vehicle I’m in. Almost every Uber vehicle I have been in has been in good or even almost new condition.
Most Uber vehicles were in really good shape and just one or two years old. The A/C works, the windows are electric powered and the seats are comfortable and they have seat belts.
Uber maintains certain standards when it comes to vehicles used by drivers. Also, the Uber vehicles tend to be larger than the normal small taxis found in Medellín and other cities in Colombia.
Typical Uber vehicles I have seen include:
- Renault Sandero
- Renault Duster
- Daihatsu Terios
- Volkswagon Amarok
2. Quality of the Drivers
I don’t know the reasons behind this, but the average Uber driver generally seems to be calmer than a taxi driver.
In my opinion this is the main reason Uber offers a better experience. It’s was just a more relaxed overall feeling being in an Uber vehicle.
In my experience, Uber drivers also tend to be more conservative in how they drive than taxi drivers. One reason for this is likely due to a risk of poor ratings and reviews from customers.
3. Seat Belts
As basic as it sounds, all Uber vehicles have seat belts, even in the back of the car.
In comparison, all the buses in Colombia don’t have seat belts. Also, unfortunately, some of the taxis in Colombia do not have seat belts in the back seat. And a few taxis in my experience don’t even have a working seat belt in the front passenger seat.
Uber is generally known for being a safe way to travel in Medellín and other cities in Colombia. You can see the license plate number of the vehicle before you take the ride.
Also, you can see a photo of the driver in the Uber mobile app. But some of the taxi mobile apps also offer this feature – providing the license plate number and photo of the driver.
But Uber went a step further, as drivers are required to get a background check.
Also, you can see the Uber reviews of the other customers in the mobile app before you even take a ride. So, this review process for drivers helps to make sure that drivers are safe and reliable.
But if you’re still unsure after you booked an Uber driver, just cancel the ride and ask for another driver.
5. Credit or Debit Card Payment
When you sign up with a Uber account you were required to use a valid credit or debit card. And your rides are charged to your account upon completion of each ride.
This is considered a security advantage. So, you didn’t have to carry cash with you and worry about having small bills. However, some taxi mobile apps also accept credit and debit card payments and are also cashless.
With Uber you won’t have the hassle of uncomfortably grabbing your wallet while sitting in the vehicle and counting the money before getting out.
Uber drivers also didn’t expect a tip, which is the same as taxi drivers in Colombia. So, you didn’t have to think about tips when taking an Uber vehicle or with taxis.
With Uber, everything was paid with your debit or credit card. And you just comfortably step out the vehicle once you arrive, without having to think about paying or tipping.
Another little advantage with Uber is that you receive a receipt at the end of the ride, which is sent to your email inbox. This receipt includes the time, date, breakdown of the fare, drive and a map showing the start and destination locations.
You can also view a history of every ride you have taken on both the Uber mobile app and their website.
One disadvantage of most other means of transport is that you won’t get a receipt. And this is especially annoying if you are on a business trip.
7. Rating and Reviewing Drivers
Uber’s mobile app requires every rider to rate their driver before he/she can ask for another ride.
So, drivers have a big reason to treat customers well to keep a high rating. And Uber even reportedly gets rid of drivers with consistently poor ratings from customers.
Also, drivers have the ability to rate riders. This encourages customers to treat drivers with respect.
8. Customer Service
Uber has customer service, which is integral to their company experience. The customer service experience includes the quality of drivers, the disposition of drivers and ease of use. In my opinion, there is no comparison between Uber’s customer service and the customer service of taxis.
For example, when I was in South Africa, the Uber app for some reason did not recognize that we left the car. So, I ended up being charged around two times the price.
I filled a claim in about five minutes inside the app and stated what happened. Inside of two days I got my money back. That’s what I call customer service!
No questions asked, everything was self-explanatory and fast.
Uber drivers also have incentives to treat customers well, which is not the case if you are using taxis – via a mobile app like EasyTaxi, calling for taxis or hailing taxis on street.
9. Price for Uber
Surprisingly, Uber rides can sometimes be less expensive than taxi rides in many cities around the world.
This really amazes me because it’s a better service and a better experience plus can be cheaper. But it’s not always cheaper due to increased fares during high demand times like rush hour.
I myself can say, all around the world not just in Medellín, that I would be happy to pay around 15 to 25 percent more for the Uber experience than a taxi. This is no matter if I am in my home country of Switzerland or in Medellín or in another city like Quito.
A typical price for Laureles to El Poblado which would take around 10 to 15 minutes cost (depending on traffic) around 12,000 pesos ($4 USD) for UberYa or higher for Comfort.
On average, when you factor in the higher fares during peak times, Uber was marginally more expensive on average than taxis. But in my opinion the service experience is much better using Uber.
10. Route tracking
Another nice feature with Uber was route tracking. You can send somebody a link with your current status and they can see on a map where you currently are.
This feature on one hand is good for security and on the other hand can be useful if you have a meeting or something of importance.
So, a lot of good things about Uber that makes it one of the best experiences of getting around in Medellín and other big cities in Colombia.
Downsides of Using Uber in Medellín and Colombia
However, not everything is perfect with Uber. There are certainly downsides of the Uber experience as well. Here are five downsides:
Downside #1. Availability
Getting around in Medellín during rush hour is a hassle. The metro is packed like sardines and is full of people. Also, taxis seem to almost all be occupied and buses are full as well. Furthermore, this is a similar problem in other cities in Colombia, particularly Bogotá.
But what about Uber? It’s was also very hard to request an Uber vehicle in Medellín during rush hour because the demand was high. Getting other means of transport is not easy as well. But often it’s easier to hail a taxi on the street instead of ordering an Uber vehicle through the app.
It’s the same in Bogotá. It could be very difficult to request an Uber vehicle during rush hour. Also, as mentioned earlier, the company was only available in 12 cities in Colombia.
Another annoying thing especially during rush hour is that some drivers would first confirm your ride and after a couple minutes they cancel it.
Downside #2: Cost During Rush Hour
If you are lucky enough to find an Uber vehicle available during rush hour, the price used to be up to 50 percent higher than a normal ride during the day. The new Uber service launched on February 20, 2020 may not have this demand pricing, which was a major legal issue with the taxi companies.
On February 20, 2020, plaintiff group (Taxis Libres and Cotech) were meeting with their lawyers and preparing a formal communication if the existence of dynamic rates persists in Uber.
Downside #3: Waiting Time
The supply of Uber riders does not always meet the high demand. That can mean, that you have to wait 10-20 minutes for your ride after ordering it from the mobile app.
And sometimes in Medellín if you were not in El Poblado or Laureles, it’s possible that there are no rides around because of high demand.
So, you have to take another means of transportation to reach your destination.
Downside #4: Illegal?
After reading that Uber seems to be readily available in Medellín in Colombia, you would never think that it’s actually illegal, right?
There are several countries in the world like Bulgaria, Denmark and Hungary, where the company has actually been banned and forced to withdraw.
Uber has been battling the legality of its service in Colombia for several years. In November 2015, President Santos even granted the company only six months to register as a formal company or be banned from the country.
But Uber did not comply and was deemed “illegal” and authorities even seized over 1,200 vehicles in Bogotá in 2016 in a showdown with the government. But the company continued to operate.
Uber has refused to register with the Colombian government as a taxi service. And the company has disputed the characterization of the company as a taxi company.
It has previously said that “Uber is a technology company legally constituted in Colombia. There is no administrative or legal act that has declared our operation illegal, nor are there any rules in the country that prohibit or punish citizens who share their private vehicles.”
Uber also claims it’s not an employer, but a “partner” of its affiliate drivers. So, it says it’s exempt from paying compulsory health and pension benefits to its drivers and taxes to the government.
In May 2017, taxi drivers in Colombia went on strike demanding a full Uber shut-down. And most of the confrontations between taxi drivers and Uber in Colombia have been in Bogotá. However, the company continued to operate in Colombia.
Also, on December 20, 2019, Colombia ordered Uber to cease its ride-hailing operations in Colombia, effective immediately, after a judge ruled the company violated competition rules. However, Uber said in a statement that it rejects the ruling and immediately appealed it. Uber said in a statement on December 20:
This decision reflects an act of censorship and infringes on the Inter American Convention on Human Rights, which has already condemned attempts to block Uber for violating the neutrality of the web, liberty of expression and freedom of Internet.
In spite of the ruling on December 20, 2019, Uber still operated in Colombia. However, on January 10, 2020, Uber decided to exit the Colombia market with its last day on January 31, 2020. But Uber returned to Colombia after three weeks on February 20, 2020.
Downside #5: The Political Discussion
The political discussion ranges from lack of insurance with Uber drivers to unfair competition with the company not having to pay for benefits for drivers and dynamic pricing.
On the other side, Uber believes that the Colombian government is infringing on consumer rights by protecting the traditional taxi industry and its drivers, who dislike the competition.
But with nearly 90,000 drivers and more than 2.3 million users in Colombia there is clearly demand for an alternate service to taxis. However, Uber likely lost many of these drivers and customers when the app was turned off for three weeks in February 2020.
Signing Up With Uber
With this mobile app, there was no need to call, wait in a line, or wave from a curb. Simple tap “request” on your phone from the comfort of indoors and wait for a push notification that your driver is “arriving now.”
The Bottom Line: Using Uber in Medellín and Colombia
Uber offers a great experience of getting around in Medellín and other cities in Colombia like Bogotá. Many people use this service on a daily basis in the big cities in Colombia.
Uber left Colombia on February 1, 2020. But only three weeks later Uber returned on February 20, 2020. During the three week absence, alternatives Beat and DiDi likely added many new customers and Uber likely lost many drivers.
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Editors note: updated on January 12, 2020 with information that Uber on January 10, 2020, decided to exit the Colombia market on January 31, 2020. So, Uber will no longer be an option in Colombia.
Editors note: updated on February 1, 2020 with information that Uber is no longer available in Colombia.
Editors note: updated on February 19, 2020 with information that Uber has returned to Colombia.