You don't have to be a traveler to know about Uber -- it has become a worldwide phenomenon (the word "Uberisation" even has its own Wikipedia entry).
But that doesn't mean that Uber is your only option when you need a ride; in fact, in many places it isn't an option at all. The reasons for its absence in some markets vary, and haven't been helped by Uber's ruthless business practices, but most big markets tend to have some Uber alternatives.
Some of these services are very good, with similar ride quality and levels of service. This is because a large number of drivers work for more than one service, have multiple apps open on their phones and simply take the first request that comes up (almost every Lyft or Uber driver I have met works with both services). Other Uber alternatives are not so great, as I will outline below.
Note that not all of these options offer peer-to-peer service; many apps work directly with licensed taxi drivers to allow customers to request a ride, see availability, set a destination, and pay and tip "regular" cabbies right through the app, much as Uber does. Pricing for these rides tends to be identical to the regular local cab rates, so you won't save any money in place where Uber and Lyft have lower pricing, but they do work.
To counter Uber's market dominance, many of the apps below are initiating partnerships that will allow booking across platforms. Didi Chuxing, Lyft, Grab and Ola have partnered to allow customers using one app to hire drivers from the others. In many cases you can pay in your native currency, and you don't have to download anything or use a different app; it is largely seamless.
Check Ridesharing Services Before You Go
If you want to figure out before you travel if your preferred service is available and has sufficient drivers at your destination, I suggest the following: Open the app, navigate on the map to the neighborhood in which you will be staying and check for cars. If you see available cars, you are in good shape; if not, you might want to try another app or make a different plan.
Be sure you check this at the time of day you will most likely need a ride. On a recent trip to the countryside outside of London, Uber had a ton of cars in the evening when folks were out and about, but none at 5 a.m. time when I had to get to the airport. Because I had checked this ahead of time, I was able to make alternate plans.
Uber Alternatives Around the World
In this list of the most significant global and/or regional alternatives to Uber, we'll start with Uber's main competitor, Lyft, and then look at more in alphabetical order.
Lyft is Uber's best-known competitor, and is a solid option in many areas. Though it has a smaller stable of drivers than Uber in most places, the service is good, reliable and economical.
Lyft's rates are usually similar to Uber's, but Lyft has some distinct upsides. The drivers are paid better and tend to be treated better, so they are often happier. Lyft also allows in-app tipping, so you don't have to exchange any cash at all if you want to tip.
Many people have both Uber and Lyft on their phones, and use one or the other based on preference and/or availability.
99taxis is popular in Rio (and throughout Brazil), and is expanding into Europe. The service connects riders with taxi drivers, and uses Paypal inside the app to process payments.
Careem is available in many cities across northern Africa and the Middle East, and offers multiple levels of service as well as the ability to book in advance. Careem is a pretty robust service, and has some features of more traditional travel companies, including the ability to earn air miles.
Now available in more than 60 U.S. cities, Curb is a taxi-hailing app that works directly with licensed taxi drivers, and allows payment within the app, with cash or in any other method available in the specific car (e.g., if the taxi takes credit cards). One benefit of Curb is that you can schedule rides up to 24 hours in advance.
Didi Chuxing (www.Xiaojukeji.com/en/index.html)
Covering hundreds of cities, with drivers numbering in the millions, Didi Chuxing is often called the "Uber of China." In addition to hailing cars, you can use the service to set up a carpool, hire a designated driver or find a car tailored to people with disabilities. After a long, fierce price war between the two companies, Uber China recently decided to sell itself to Didi Chuxing.
EasyTaxi appears to be the biggest service/app for hailing licensed taxis in the world, and works especially well in places that have banned Uber and similar services (Buenos Aires, Rio). Founded in Brazil, the company has expanded beyond South and Central America to include cities in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Flywheel also works with licensed drivers and so far is focused on West Coast cities including San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland and Seattle.
Gett offers service in Israel, Russia and London, as well as Manhattan, where it has an interesting twist: a flat $10 fare for anywhere you want to go, so long as your pick-up and drop-off are in Manhattan south of 110th Street. (Unfortunately, Gett gets some extraordinarily bad reviews on Yelp.)
Grab is widely available in Southeast Asia, with more than 75,000 drivers and almost 4 million users in Indonesia, Malaysia (where it is known as MyTeksi), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. While Grab is mainly a licensed taxi app, the company also offers GrabCar, which uses a peer-to-peer approach, and GrabBike, a motorcycle version of the service. The latter is a good option to counter the extreme congestion in many cities it serves, as motorbikes can thread through traffic much more quickly than cars.
Hailo is an app for hailing licensed taxis that is expanding rapidly at present. Launched in London, it is now available in four U.K. cities as well as Dublin, Madrid, Barcelona and Singapore.
This London-based minicab-hailing app connects drivers from local minicab companies with riders.
Based in Germany and available in five European countries as well as Washington D.C., MyTaxi lets you book taxis from either a web browser or the app; you can also save favorite drivers so you can get them again, as well as call only five-star rated drivers and order rides in advance.
Ola is India's biggest ridesharing company and offers almost every type of ride imaginable, from luxury cars and licensed cabs to Uber-type drivers and even rickshaw rides.
Created by an Uber driver after driving home an extremely drunk male passenger, SafeHer is a service designed for female riders that was supposed to launch in April 2016 but had to push back launch as it scaled up the business. The founders claim to have had more than 4,000 driver applications so far, so keep an eye on this service as time goes on.
SheTaxis hires only female drivers to cater to exclusively female riders. The service has hit some discrimination potholes, however, so is not yet available on a widespread basis.
Takkun is Tokyo's largest taxi-dispatching system, including a total of about 12,000 cars. Some reports indicate that Tokyo's taxis cost less than Uber, so this could be a money-saving option.
Currently available in Manhattan (south of 125th St.) and several Chicago neighborhoods, Via collects passengers in a carpool approach to offer lower prices; its motto is "Ride for the price of a latte."
Taxi drivers in France (especially in Paris) have successfully pushed back against Uber and other ridesharing services, so you may need an alternative when traveling there; Zaleou is the leading option. (Note: The website is in French only.)