Like many transport-related industries, Uber is doing it tough in the COVID-19 pandemic, posting huge losses in revenue and passenger volume across the world as people stop commuting and travelling.
It does, however, have a point of difference to companies like Hertz, offering alternative services like Uber Eats food delivery that helps to keep its drivers employed.
Now it’s branching out into the area of car rental.
Uber is debuting a trial of the new service, called Uber Rent, in Australia in what it’s calling a world-first, starting in Brisbane before rolling it out to other Australian cities including Melbourne, the Gold Coast, Sydney and Perth.
“While many Australians will drive to a wine region, down the coast or explore the mountains in their own car – not everyone has access to their own private vehicle,” Uber Australia and New Zealand general manager Dom Taylor said in a statement.
“At Uber we believe you should always be able to get around, even if you don’t own your own car, and Uber Rent is one more way of helping people do just that.”
The Brisbane-based trial of Uber Rent allows selected Uber account holders – about 50 per cent of account holders, according to Uber - to book a rental car through their account via a rental company called CarTrawler.
Never heard of them? Neither had we – and a quick trawl of popular travel sites soon revealed why.
Review after review on sites like renowned travel rating site TripAdvisor advised other travellers to steer well clear of CarTrawler, which acts as an intermediary between customers and physical car rental firms.
The numerous complaints related, in the main, to the inability to contact the company when things went wrong – and judging by the sheer volume of negative reviews across numerous sites, it seems to happen a lot, with customers complaining of car bookings not honoured, rental fees charged multiple times and CarTrawler not responding to any correspondence.
There’s no Australian-based CarTrawler main page, either, which is pretty unusual for a company teaming up with a well-known company like Uber.
A link on Uber’s press release takes you to a landing page that then shows you cars based on your location from a variety of well-known car rental companies like Hertz and Thrifty, but the US ride-share service company is using CarTrawler as its intermediary.
Australian consumers are already well protected under our strong consumer laws, and hopefully, Uber’s done its homework around making the experience as seamless as possible.
The company also pointed to alternative review sites where CarTrawl was more favourably reviewed.
In the meantime, it’s always a good idea to make sure your travel plans are locked down hard if you’re trying not to overspend on items like car rental – if you want to pay less for a service, there are more hurdles to leap over if you need to change things on the fly.