Uber, a mobile application that makes it easy for users to order limos and town cars, has been talking about expanding from San Francisco to Silicon Valley for a while now. Today it happened.
The San Francisco startup previously announced that for two weeks, it would launch in Palo Alto with exclusive pickups for Facebook and Google employees, presumably as a way to build buzz before opening to the general public in mid-March. (Rather confusingly, non-Facebook and Google employees could call for pickups in Silicon Valley locations outside of Palo Alto.)
Today, the company (formerly known as UberCab) said that it’s going to end the exclusivity early, because “many of the Uber Faithful decried not having their Uber Southern Comfort.” So anyone can use Uber anywhere on the peninsula.
I’ve become a huge fan of Uber in the last couple of months, after I finally started using the service when I couldn’t get a cab on New Year’s Eve. Yes, it’s more expensive then calling a cab, but it’s also more convenient (all the payments are handled in the app), comfortable, and most important for me, reliable (the drivers are tracked by the GPS on their phones, so you have a good estimate of when they’ll arrive).
For those of you who don’t know how it works, Uber isn’t running a car service itself; instead it connects existing car companies and drivers with passengers through the app. The drivers I’ve talked to have raved about how it makes their jobs more lucrative by helping them find passengers when they’re not serving one of their regular clients.
This expansion will be a good test of Uber’s viability — specifically, whether the concept works outside of dense, urban areas. The company warns that users may have to wait longer for their pickups. Since trips on the peninsula will probably cover a longer distance, prices will also go up, but Uber is trying to mitigate that by offering some new flat rates, so passengers know exactly how much a trip will cost. For example, a ride from Palo Alto to the San Francisco Airport will cost $85, while a trip from Palo Alto to San Francisco proper will cost $115.
Uber recently raised an $11 million round from Benchmark Capital and previous investors First Round Capital, Chris Sacca’s Lowercase Capital, and the Founder Collective.