It was just last month that Uber won a big vote of confidence in one of the most important markets it has launched — our nation’s capital. The Washington, D.C., city council unanimously voted to allow a new line of transportation apps that would let users hail rides from their mobile phones. That decision basically gave Uber the green light to continue operating there.
But the startup isn’t just standing still in our nation’s capital. Beyond its on-demand black car service, Uber is going a step further in trying to corner the transportation market by launching its e-hail taxi service in D.C., as well. The launch of UberTAXI there will give users the choice of hailing one of Uber’s sedans at a premium, or hailing a cab at about the same rate that it would usually cost, with a few extra charges tacked on.
One important difference between UberTAXI and just hailing a cab on the street is the price: In addition to the cab fare — which is taken off the meter and punched into the driver’s Uber app — users will be charged a $2 dispatch fee for using its service. That fee was set by the D.C. Taxi Cab Commission, not by Uber. Oh, and UberTAXI will automatically charge a 20 percent gratuity on top to ensure people are tipping appropriately.
That might be slightly more than people are used to paying for a cab. But they’re also paying for the convenience and reliability that comes from hailing a cab on their phone and ensuring that they have a ride come quickly when they need it.
The launch of UberTAXI in D.C. comes as Uber has faced regulatory scrutiny both in the capital and elsewhere. While its worries in D.C. are cleared up, thanks to the city council’s ruling last month, it still faces regulatory hurdles in other markets – like, for instance, Toronto, where Uber is going to court after getting hit with “25 municipal licensing offenses, including operaton of an unlicensed taxi brokerage and unlicensed limo service.”
It also comes amid growing competition throughout the markets that it has launched in. While ride-sharing services like Lyft and SideCar have been mostly contained in San Francisco to date, they are looking to aggressively expand into new markets this year. And then there are existing taxi e-hail services, like TaxiMagic and the recently rebranded FlyWheel (formerly Cabulous), which are putting more effort into marketing in the cities they operate in.
In other words, urban transportation, which hadn’t changed too much in the last several decades, is finally getting some real competition, thanks to technology. It’s becoming a bit of a landgrab, one which Uber — as the first mover in many of its markets — hopes to win.