News & Politics

Uber DC Offers a Smooth Ride

Need car service? There's an app for that.

Uber, a new car company, allows registered users to text a pickup address or use a smartphone app to summon a car. (iStock Photo)

As DC debates an increase in cab fares, a new company is hoping to bring the New York tradition of black-car service to the nation’s capital.

The company, Uber, aims to “democratize” car service, providing a premium alternative to taxis without premium prices. Think of it as geared not to the top 1 percent but to the top 20 percent—those with some disposable income who are frustrated with the Russian roulette DC’s cab system can be.

Registered users text a pickup address to Uber or use a smartphone app to summon a car. Washington’s fleet is almost all Lincoln Town Cars, with a few black SUVs and Mercedes. GPS-enabled iPhones distributed to each driver then allow a computer to determine which car is closest. From that point, a driver has 15 seconds to accept the ride request before it passes to the next closest driver. Uber’s goal is to provide a car within five to ten minutes; users give their credit-card number when they sign up. Rides, based on GPS measurement, are billed automatically.

The company is much more tech start-up than transit company. It’s in six US cities and recently expanded to Paris; it’s backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, among others; and the first local Uber rider in November was Hooman Radfar, cofounder of the tech start-up Clearspring. By its official launch in mid-December, the company had about 20 drivers on the road.

Rates begin at a base fare of $7, with $3 a mile (tax and tip included) added on. There’s an $80 flat fee to go to and from Dulles International Airport.

This article appears in the January 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.