Postcard from Rio: Uber can get you out of a jam

John Niyo
The Detroit News
Uber is a good way to beat the crowds in Rio.

Have to admit – and maybe this is my age showing, now that I’m 45 – I’ve never been much of an Uber guy. While the youngsters on the Lions beat regularly use the service on road trips, I’m usually content to hail a cab. Old school, I guess.

But as I type this here in Rio on my way back to Barra de Tijuca and the Main Press Center at the Olympics, on a bus that’s lurching through one of Rio’s beloved traffic jams – the driver determined to make someone puke – I am missing Marcio and his trusty Renault. That’s how I got up to the rowing venue near Ipanema Beach from my hotel this morning: I ordered up an Uber ride, avoiding a bus trip that likely would’ve taken much longer than the scheduled two hours it showed in the transport guide. (If you like fiction, have I got a book for you.)

Instead, my trip lasted 13 minutes and cost barely 20 reais, or about $6.50. And though Marcio didn’t speak any English, and he knew my Portuguese was limited to about a dozen words, that didn’t stop him from trying to play tour guide on the way, pointing out some of the notable sights: the Jockey Club Brasileiro, the training ground for Brazilian soccer club Flamengo, and Rio’s famous botanical gardens.

That certainly beats the deafening noise of one of these Rio transit buses, many of which are being driven by folks who aren’t entirely sure where they’re going. On the way to Friday’s opening ceremony, a Brazilian photographer finally saved us after our driver got lost, driving aimlessly through the streets near downtown Rio for a half hour. And on the way home, as the flood of thousands of media exited the stadium to find just three waiting buses, it was like the fall of Saigon.

These are first-world problems, obviously. And hardly new ones for the Olympics, where the transport system usually looks fine on paper and then becomes a bit of a nightmare in reality. In Rio, it’s as if the drivers aren’t even bothering to look at the paper, in many cases, or the organizers never bothered to write anything down. Which is why I’ll be ordering up another Renault ride soon.

Niyo: Rowers plug away with few pennies to spare