Uber is unveiled a new feature in the Washington metropolitan region last Thursday that expands its on-demand ride-hailing service onto terrain once held by traditional limousine and taxicab companies.
Customers using the UberX app will be able to schedule rides from 30 minutes to 30 days in advance, the kind of service cab and limo companies using central dispatch have offered for decades. UberX is Uber's "low-cost option" for rides as opposed to UberBlack, which is Uber's luxury car service.
“It is something that people have been asking for, especially our business travelers,” said Tom Hayes, Uber’s D.C. general manager. In an official announcement expected on Thursday morning, Uber says customers will be able to “select uberX and tap ‘Schedule a Ride,’ set your pickup date, time, location, and destination, confirm the details of your upcoming trip and tap ‘Schedule uberX.’”
Customers will receive an estimated fare when booking the ride, but if it increases by the time of the pickup due to surge pricing, they will be able to cancel without penalty.
“Right as the ride is coming, you will get another fare estimate based on current conditions but you will be able to cancel within five minutes for no fee if you are not happy with it,” said Uber’s Hayes.
Unburdened by the regulations placed on licensed taxicabs and using technology further advanced than what is available to cabbies (the D.C. taxi app remains an afterthought in public beta), Uber continues to build on its dominance in the region’s e-hail market. Legacy taxi companies, already reporting steep losses since the rise of Uber and its ride-hailing competitors, now have one more thing to compete against – although the playing field still is not level.
“We will see a further erosion if we are going to be forced to operate under a very strictly regulated situation,” said Roy Spooner, the general manager of Yellow Cab Co., the largest centralized dispatch taxi company in Washington.
“Uber can step into my business without any regulations and execute it right off the top, but meanwhile I have to install dome lights, paint cars a specific color, can’t carry my brand name any longer, put expensive systems in my cars, can’t reduce costs to my drivers, and operate under every regulation you can possibly think of to remain a legitimate taxicab company, but Uber can do exactly what I do for a tenth of the cost,” Spooner added.
It is not clear whether Uber will eventually expand its schedule ride option to Uber Black - such a service would directly compete with the region's limousine and sedan businesses.
D.C. taxi regulators have been working on proposals to allegedly "deregulate" the industry, including a plan to let people use their personal cars as licensed cabs (X Class), similar to UberX (nearly any car with 4 doors will suffice as there are currently no proposed age or mileage requirements). In other words, regulators are looking to create and then regulate an entirely new business. This new City run business will further diminish the value of taxi and limousine licenses.