Uber, the San Francisco-based car service mobile app company, started offering its lowest-cost transportation option in Palo Alto Wednesday morning.
UberX, which the company launched last July, offers rides for prices 10 to 15 percent lower than taxi prices (and lower than normal Uber prices), said Ilya Abyzov, Uber's San Francisco general manager.
This means that for a flat rate, commuters can now get from Palo Alto to Mountain View for $35, from Palo Alto to San Jose for $55 and from San Francisco to Palo Alto for $90. Also available are mid-range cars -- some of them eco-friendly hybrids -- Uber's normal town cars and luxury options, which are more expensive and have been available in the South Bay since 2010.
"I lived in the South Bay for two years and I remember trying to get a taxi was basically impossible ... you would sort of call one of five different phone numbers, and maybe someone would come get you and maybe not," Abyzov said. "When I started working for Uber, I looked at taxi prices across the country, and San Jose and Palo Alto were one of the top five most expensive in the entire United States, which I thought was surprising and kind of crazy."
Uber launched in 2010 in San Francisco with a distinct appeal: forego the cheaper but sometimes unreliable traditional yellow taxi for a smartphone application that allows users to tracks their drivers, sends a text message when a driver arrives and charges riders completely digitally. (The software works with iPhones, Androids and Blackberries, but non-smartphone users can also use Uber online via the company's website). Uber also tapped into the luxury car market, using high-end black town cars or SUVs as taxis.
However, Uber doesn't own cars or employ its own drivers. Instead, the company partners with professional drivers looking to make an extra buck in their downtime.
Uber has various flat rates, mostly for rides to local airports. For other kinds of trips -- to a bar, Caltrain, the grocery store, a friend's house -- the base fare for a ride in San Francisco starts at $3.50 for an uberX car (the lowest-cost option, now offered in Silicon Valley) and charges $2.75 per mile. The next level up is UberBLACK, the town car option, which charges a base fare of $7 or $4 per mile. The going rate for an Uber SUV (for "when you're rolling with more than four people," the Uber website reads) is a $15 base fare and $5 per mile. Base fares vary from city to city.
Though Uber has faced some controversy raised by the traditional taxi industry (San Francisco cab drivers filed a class-action lawsuit against the transportation company last year, claiming unfair business competition and violations of California Statutory and city regulatory mandates), that hasn't stopped its growth: Uber now operates in 35 cities, from Amsterdam to Los Angeles.
See some sample uberX Silicon Valley fares and rates here.