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Uber car service launches in Sacramento

A high-end car service that connects riders with drivers using a smartphone app – which is also used to pay for the trip – has made its way onto the streets of Sacramento.

Uber, a San Francisco-based startup, is an app that allows users to request a ride using their smartphone, get picked up in a black Lincoln Town Car or SUV, be driven to their destination, and pay without touching their wallet. Or, in their words, "Request a swanky ride in a black car with just the tap of an app!" 

It’s been touted as "the service that eliminates everything bad about a taxi experience" by TechCrunch, and fans of the service say it’s quick, stylish and upscale. Foes of the service, however, claim it gouges customers and doesn’t follow the same regulations as taxi cabs. 

Either way, last week Uber gave its first Sacramento ride to mixed martial artist Urijah Faber

Uber said in its blog post that the company is still in its testing phase here, so availability may be limited until the official launch.

"Pretty soon, though, you’ll be able to leave those car keys at home on a Friday night and let us be your designated driver," the post stated. "We’ll be adding more Ubers every day, tweaking and perfecting until we get things just right."

Uber was founded in 2009, and launched its app in 2010 in San Francisco. It’s since expanded to other major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., Vancouver, San Diego, and more.

But the venture-funded startup has had its share of legal hurdles along the way, including a class-action lawsuit in Fall 2012 claiming that its S.F. operations are illegal because it’s allegedly “acting as a taxicab company while sometimes denying this fact in order to avoid all regulations governing taxicab companies.”

In response, Uber’s attorney issued a statement calling the suit baseless, saying that the company “complies with all laws and regulations applicable to its business,” according to a TechCrunch article.

The legal issues extend to the other side and middle of the country. In D.C., the city council wanted to create legislation that would bar Uber from operating in the district, according to The Daily Beast, but after the car service company received much support from progressive bloggers, the council passed a new regulation that, in the words of CEO Kalanick, made it “very clear that Uber and its partners, the licensed/regulated sedan companies and drivers, can’t be regulated out of existence.” 

The legal issues haven’t stopped Uber from expanding into other markets, however. Part of its appeal is the simplicity and user interaction – to get a ride, you must first download the app, create an account and enter your credit card information – which is only used when you get a ride, after which a receipt is emailed to you. No tip is required – it’s included in the cost – and the interactive part is you get to rate the driver on a scale of one to five stars.

It’s sort of like writing a Yelp review, but the information is used internally by Uber to improve services.

It’s not a one-way street though. The drivers get to rate you, the passenger, as well on the same scale. So if you’re a bad drunk, rude to those in the service industry or otherwise obnoxious while being chauffeured around town, Uber will find out.

And while the service may sound new, that’s only part right. According to former Sacramento taxi driver Angelo Howland, there’s been a local car service for years – Steve’s Towncar Service – that has a fleet of six cars.

The only difference between a taxi and Uber – or any other car service for that matter – is that car services can’t accept flags or hails for rides, he said. Another difference is that livery drivers (which Uber would be considered) aren’t required to go through criminal background checks, as taxi drivers do, Howland said.

While there are local car services that use Lincoln Town Cars and other high-end vehicles, Uber relies solely on its app to coordinate rides.

Other ways that Uber differentiates itself from a regular cab service include:

• You can view a photo of your driver before being picked up, and even call him on the phone to chat and/or ask questions.
• The prices are a bit more than a taxi ride, and below the cost of a limousine.

Midtowner George Raya has already created an Uber account, he said, and is looking forward to his first ride. Taxis generally take between 15 and 20 minutes to arrive, he said, and “I’m not into waiting that long, especially if I’m running late and want to get somewhere.”

Have you tried Uber? If so, what was your experience like? Do you think it will work in Sacramento?

Editor’s note: The “News Digest” goes out every Tuesday morning and highlights our best stories, photos and videos from the week prior. Sign me up.

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