Uber vs London cab vs Sat Nav: which is the best?

It is well known that in order to be allowed to drive a London taxi, a taxi driver must be the Knowledge, a feat of memory that requires a brain the ability to compete with a supercomputer.

But we also know that, thanks to Fred Housego, who won TV’s Mastermind in 1980, the taxi drivers possess a level of general knowledge, even host John Humphrys would find intimidating.

So we created a London taxi driver, is 99% of the brain. The problem is, there is another thing with a big brain who does a similar job – a sat – nav. The best equipment can not only calculate the fastest route through London (or anywhere else for that matter), but they can also react to the invisible of the congestion by re-routing to avoid it. Fortunately, a taxi driver has a sixth sense for the congestion and calculate a devilishly clever route to work around too.

How, we wondered, these two vast brain drain rate in a time trial on one day of the week in the capital?

And then we had an even more brilliant idea: how about you take a Uber cab in the mix? The company is struggling to keep its London licence, but while it is attractive, it is allowed to operate.

Richmond station to Waterloo station seemed a good point of departure and point of arrival, since we (the photographer JB and me) could quickly return to the train for the next race. We knew that, to be allowed to use bus lanes, the taxi had an unfair advantage, but acknowledged that taking a at the end of the rush hour, the gains would be lost in the event of delays, elsewhere along the road. Accordingly, at 09.10 on a Wednesday morning, we arrived at Richmond station taxi rank.

By 09.11, we were on our way. In a few minutes, we were introduced to the delights of the taxi of the leaf-spring suspension as we plunged headlong over the sleeping policemen that plague the side of the roads around Richmond Park. Our driver had spotted the traffic jams massing on the A305 Upper Richmond Road and a cry of, “while avoiding the traffic!”, had departed to the right.

After a few minutes of this we emerged onto the A205 and in a queue. We crawled up to what, 9: 40am, we made the junction with the A3 motorway. I was expecting to hit heavy traffic when we joined the A217 and approached Wandsworth Bridge, but it was clear. By 09.59, have been to Lamberth Palace, and in a bus lane, where it was a short hop past St Thomas ‘ Hospital, around the roundabout at the Park Plaza hotel and left up the Station Approach in the context of Waterloo.

In return, we take the train for the second round (the trip lasted for 16, comfortable, a few minutes), this time by Uber. A few metres down Richmond station, I found a request for a taxi through the Uber app on my iPhone. A map showed driver Daahir of the location, and within six minutes we were climbing in his Vauxhall Zafira, and by 10.47 on our way. Of course, unlike the taxi driver, Daahir relied on his sat-nav.

He took a different route than the taxi, guiding us along the A316 on to the A4, over the Hammersmith flyover, through the heavy traffic at the Natural History Museum and from Knightsbridge. And then, having been alerted to the movement further along the planned route, 11.17 guided us to the right, bottom of Beauchamp Place, around Sloane Square and, possibly, Grosvenor Road, alongside the river Thames at 11.27. Daahir could not use the bus lanes, but even so, we have finally crossed the Lambeth Bridge, plunged around the Park Plaza and brought to the Waterloo station and at the right time.

Back to Richmond, where we landed in my 2006-reg Vauxhall Astra equipped with the state-of-the-art Garmin DriveSmart 61 Europe LMT-D sat-nav complete with lifetime map updates for the UK and Europe, digital traffic alerts, live parking information and wi-fi connectivity (price: £249.95).

I typed the postal code of the destination in the beautiful clear 6.95 on the screen and, at 13.04, headed in the direction of the A316, as shown. It was a re-run of Daahir of the approach, but as I drove it, the Garmin has invited me to select more rapidly the routes he has identified the congestion. It is thus that, at 13.36, we found ourselves curling around Hyde Park Corner and at the bottom of Constitution Hill in what we feared would be the tourist trap of the Cage of Walk, Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge. But the Garmin was right and, by 13.51, we have been spinning between the fingers at the Park Plaza.

The results panel below explains the mode that has been the most rapid, but the taxi driver the ability to have a good time, considering the hour and the scarcity, not only of bus lanes, but clearly too, has been impressive.

The Garmin sat-nav enjoyed a better run in London and, once in the capital, evidence of an impressive ability to detect problems and to re-route around it.

The Uber experience was smooth and great value for money. Who has the biggest brain? Pass…

The results:

The Garmin/car combination wins. However, in spite of its ability to re-route, it is unlikely to have succeeded so well in the rush hour when a taxi can use the bus lanes (assuming they are free bus) to make progress. The Uber cab of the sat-nav was also recalculate the route and the anticipation of an arrival time some time in the journey of 11.40, which fluctuated around three minutes shorter or longer than we have walked.

Given the hour of the day, the taxi to the victory of the Uber taxi, and only four minutes late on the Garmin, is impressive, if a little expensive in comparison.

John Evans

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