Uber’s newest service in India lets customers book a car for multiple trips

Uber is introducing hire cars in a new pilot program in India. That’s hire cars staffed with a driver who handles multiple journeys, not hire cars that require customers to drive themselves.

The company explained that the ‘Uber Hire’ service, which will be piloted in an initial eight cities, comes in response to requests from users who wanted to keep their Uber driver for the day, perhaps to cover multiple meetings, a shopping trip or exploration purposes.

So, rather than booking multiple Ubers, the customer retains the same car and simply pays for the entire total of trips at the end. That’s based on a combination of “distance and duration,” like regular Uber drives, but can only be settled in cash, the company said.

The concept is new for Uber — it isn’t offering such a service anywhere else worldwide — but it isn’t new for India. Ola, the local rival to Uber which spans over 200 cities, launched multi-trip rentals last summer. The Ola version — Ola Rentals — debuted in over 80 cities and with an hourly pricing structure starting at 449 INR ($6.70) for two hours or 30 km.

In a statement, Ola said it “led the innovation space in mobility and is the first one to introduce Rentals last year.”

Ola added that it will expand its Rentals service, which has generated ‘hundreds of thousands’ of bookings, to a total of 100 cities “soon.”

The nearest Uber came to rentals prior to today is a service in holiday mecca Bali which allows a car to be booked for 5-10 hours to help travelers and sightseers get around.

Following its withdrawal from China — via Didi Chuxing’s ongoing acquisition of Uber China — Uber has turned its focus to more winnable markets like India and Southeast Asia. It is said to be diverting a large portion of the money that went to China, where it burned $1 billion per year, to both markets, with India in particular a key focus.

Uber created a dedicated R&D team in India, and aside from Uber Hire other local projects have include online bookings, the ability to book rides on behalf of others, and — previously — cash payments and a dedicated SOS button.