Madrid has Teslas, Thailand has Scooters. What Uber Services Do Americans Miss Out On?

  Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Uber is turning to country-specific services to address local transportation needs and concerns.

byLiane Yvkoff|
Madrid has Teslas, Thailand has Scooters. What Uber Services Do Americans Miss Out On?


Uber has launched a fleet of electric Teslas onto the streets of Madrid as part of its new UberOne service, which appears to be a bid to play nice with city officials. The ride-hailing company's progress in European cities has been an uphill battle, and its arrival is often met with protests from existing taxi companies—heavily regulated by city officials—and shortly thereafter, a ban. That's exactly what happened in Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Rather than its usual "shock and awe" strategy, the transportation start-up seems to be trying a new tactic to gain the good graces of Spanish authorities: Cooperation.

Madrid has been examining ways to combat growing air quality problems, and the city is limiting vehicles within its limits and lowering speed limits on perimeter streets. Uber operates its UberX service under a restricted license that prevents its expansion, and this "clean air" move may be trying to soften city officials. The fleet of Tesla Model S' in UberOne are zero-tailpipe emissions, and the environmentally-friendly high-end vehicles are also business friendly. Each vehicle is equipped with Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet, pre-loaded with Spotify, which has a partnership with the mobility company.

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While it's refreshing to hear about Uber doing something other than suing municipalities to grow its operations, it begs the question, what else is the company doing to ingratiate itself with users in other countries?

Localization is proving key to making inroads in many foreign countries with cultural or socioeconomic differences than standard American or European concerns. For example, the company that practically pioneered cashless transit transactions accepts cash in several countries. Here are some of the local features that we found used by Uber customers around the world:

Panic button: In response to sexual assaults by Uber drivers, the company is testing an embedded SOS button inside its app in New Delhi, India and Johannesburg, South Africa. When tapped, the panic button prompts the user to confirm that the company should contact local authorities. Uber's 's central security system monitors the alarm 24 hours a day. If the pilot program works as intended it could be introduced into other cities in India, South Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. And hey, it probably should even be added to apps in all countries.

Pay with cash: Indonesia and Philippines, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, and Morocco have the option to pay in physical or digital currency. Cash is still King in many foreign countries that don't have the same easy access to credit cards that Americans enjoy, and many people have legitimate concerns with giving away banking information to an app. That's why Uber bent its cashless business model to enable its drivers to serve customers used to whipping bills out of their wallets.

Dial an Uber: Not every region enjoys the same level of LTE, 4G or even 3G coverage common in Western countries. To serve customer who need a more data-friendly way to hail an Uber, the start-up created a lightweight mobile Web app that loads twice as fast and still has many of the same features found in the regular app. Available in 29 cities in India, there's one major caveat: riders who use must pay with cash.

UberMOTO: In many dense international cities, motorbikes are more popular than cars because they're cheaper to own, operate, and they have a smaller footprint which makes it easy to zip through gridlocked traffic and narrow streets. To match its services to areas where motorcycles out-number cars, Uber offers UberMoto in some cities in Thailand, India, and Indonesia. The ride-hailing concept remains the same, except rather than a Prius, a scooter may arrive to ferry passengers to their destination. The only real difference is that users may need to pack a hairbrush with them: all drivers and passengers must wear helmets, which is provided for customers when the ride arrives. 

Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images