A new technologically savvy private driver service launching today hopes to give taxicabs a run for their money on the Hill.
Since Nov. 18, Uber has quietly been building a client base and conducting beta testing in Washington, D.C.
“We started in San Francisco in June of 2010,” said Rachel Holt, general manager of the Uber D.C. branch. “We offer an on-demand private driver service and are fundamentally a technology company not a car company.”
In addition to San Francisco and now Washington, the company operates in Seattle, Chicago, New York and Boston and recently opened its first foreign service in Paris. Uber plans to expand at the rate of two cities per month in 2012.
Here’s how it works:
The customer sets up an account on Uber.com or after downloading the free Uber application offered for the iPhone and Android. Credit card and contact information is kept on file after an account is created.
Then, with a quick touch and in a matter of minutes, a sleek sedan or SUV pulls up to your location and takes you to your destination.
Smartphone owners can use their app to be located by the service. Those without smartphones can text their whereabouts to Uber to get service.
The big advantage of using the app is the ability to view the location of the driver on a map as the car nears the client.
The quality of the experience is key, Vice President of Operations Ryan Graves stressed.
“The founders set out with a vision to give people the opportunity to travel like a European diplomat. We use the ratings to filter out bad drivers and clients. We have kicked out clients,” he said. “The quality of the system is what we are worried about.”
Uber claims about 2,000 clients signed up to accounts in the Washington area and more than 60 drivers in the system.
“It has been unbelievable, and in D.C., we are growing faster than any other city,” Holt said. “I think people are impressed with how seamless Uber is here.”
The cost is “between one-and-a-half to two times a cab,” Holt said. “We don’t charge based on number of people or charge based on luggage, and tip is included.”
On average, a client can be expected to spend more than $100 per month. It is broken down as such: a $7 flat rate plus $3 per mile plus 70 cents per minute fee.
The D.C. Taxicab Commission recently approved a fare increase (while recommending an end to surcharges on fuel, extra passengers and bags), which could be further good news for the newcomer.
And then there are the arcane regulations governing where cabs can go.
“The state regulations obviously make it frustrating traveling from Virginia and Maryland to D.C., and people who are used to being frustrated are now really excited,” Holt said, “because we will drive those distances.”
Holt acknowledges that unlike some other cities, Washington has workers who are constantly on the move during all hours of the day, not just mornings and evenings.
“This is a city of people who are ready for something new,” Holt said. “So it hasn’t just been early adopters from the tech community, but from business and politics.”