A Year as an Uber Customer in Croatia: Some Observations

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October 25, 2017 – Croatia is changing slowly, as technology and global ideas take hold, with varying degrees of success. Few have been more high profile than Uber, the rideshare application which has encountered a bumpy ride since starting operations in Croatia in 2015. Now that the tourist season has finished, a look back at a 12-month Uber user experience from a local resident. 



The two have never gone hand in hand in my 15 years in the country, and I don’t think I am alone. Having lived on Hvar for the majority of that time, I could never quite understand the need to have such high prices. 250 kuna for the 10km from Jelsa to the ferry, 400 kuna from Jelsa to Hvar Town. It was at times cheaper to fly to Zagreb from Split than take a ferry on the island. The chance of seeing a taxi meter and seeing my ride price accumulate? Zero. 

I was just as unimpressed when I used taxis in Zagreb and Split, so much so that I ended up walking to a lot of my destinations, rather than pay the prices. A 20-minute walk to the hospital in Split or 60 kuna. Doing a day’s business in Zagreb was an expensive hobby with the price of a ride between meetings around 50-60 kuna a time. By the time I wrote my article How to Get a Ripoff Taxi Driver to Run After You and Offer a Full Refund, a blog which ended up on the front pages of the online national media, I was really through with the Croatian taxi experience.  

Then, in 2015, Uber arrived in Croatia. 

To be honest, I didn’t really know what Uber really was. I had been living for a decade on an idyllic Dalmatian island, an island devoid of roundabouts and traffic lights. Technology had left me completely behind, and I wasn’t really sure what an app was, or how I would use one. So rather than downloading the Uber app as all my friends had, I shied away and continued to mostly walk between meetings. 

Finally, a friend – frustrated by my Neanderthal lifestyle – downloaded the app for me and ordered us an Uber to go to our next meeting. So simple, and so many things taken out of the equation in the taxi driver conversation: the destination has already been communicated, the approximate fare as well. And the fares were much lower. I started to walk less and get more efficient with my business days in Zagreb, Ubering my way all over the city. 


This isn’t an article glorifying all things Uber, rather a look at how the company is making a change in Croatia. There are things I don’t like about the app, such as ‘driver arriving in 3 minutes’ sometimes taking a lot more than three minutes. Even this is preferable to the taxi service, however, for you are unable to book a taxi in advance, and are at the mercy of availability. The process of booking an Uber is a lot more transparent and reliable in general. 

As in other countries, the arrival of Uber has resulted in fierce opposition from taxi drivers, opposition which has taken the form of physical threats (with one driver having his car set on fire with him inside) and traffic blockages. In the height of the tourist season, roads in key cities were blocked, including the road to Dubrovnik Airport, which resulted in tourists missing their flights and a lot of people getting very pissed off. As a PR exercise for the taxi drivers, it was a classic own goal. 

One could perhaps have some sympathy with Croatia’s taxi drivers if they started from the fair playing field which they are always complaining about. There are plenty of horror stories of overcharging, no receipts being given etc. My favourite one is a story told me by an Uber driver who took a foreigner from the hotel to Zagreb Airport, where the fixed fare is 90 kuna. When he asked his passenger for the money, he was surprised to be given 900 kuna. He explained again that it was 90 kuna, not 900.

“I don’t understand,” said the passenger. “How can it be 90 kuna to the airport, when it costs 800 kuna to the hotel from the airport?”

The Uber story has been a fascinating one to follow over the last two years, and it is the leading force in a new battleground in Croatia – the transparency and efficiency of technology over the corruption of the current way of life in many areas. 800 kuna (and no receipt!) from the airport, 90 kuna the other way. 

Locals and tourists are responding, and the numbers are impressive. Uber has more than 2,000 partner drivers since starting 2 years ago, with a stated aim of increasing that to 10,000 over time. Of these, 65% have another source of income, while 35% have Uber as their sole source of income. Despite the increase in drivers, the majority of Uber drivers I have travelled with seem to be happier with the money earned than they were a year ago. I was interested to hear of the experiences of one driver in Zagreb, who was just back from working the summer in Dubrovnik. He and two other Uber drivers had heard that the money to be earned in the season in Dubrovnik was much higher, so they rented an apartment near Dubrovnik, and Ubered all summer, earning almost three times what they did in Zagreb, before returning to Zagreb for the winter shifts. For me, however, the number of drivers I spoke with who were doing the job parttime was significant. Pensioners who did not earn enough to live properly, younger people who needed a little more income to get by inbetween other job commitments. Uber is far from perfect, but here is a company providing the opportunity to people to earn reasonable money in a country where emigration and high unemployment are rife.

There are 120,000 active users of Uber in Croatia, an impressive number as it does not yet cover the whole country, and there were 115,000 foreign visitors using the app in Dalmatia this summer. With more than 90% of these already having the app from previous travel and their home countries, Uber has become an expected part of the international travel experience, something which users expect to be available in top tourist destinations such as Croatia. 

The launch of UberBOAT this summer was a huge PR exercise for Croatia, and the sexy promo video and story filled many websites and international column inches prior to and after its launch. I did not use the service myself, but Uber was satisfied enough with the results to be returning next summer with more of the same. 

Technology versus the old ways. After years of having no choice but to accept the prices and practices, Uber has given Croatian consumers a choice, and those consumers are liking it. Uber is only the start of the technology revolution which is coming to Croatia, and with it, a chance to reject the old ways of the past in place of something far more transparent and efficient.  



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