Uber (formerly UberCab), which received a cease and desist order from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, is alive and kicking despite the SF taxi commission's best attempt to squelch the private car network. In fact, the company is looking to expand in 2011. This week, the company launched in Paris for a day to demonstrate just how easily and quickly it could expand to new cities, and CEO Ryan Graves tweeted that he's studying maps of Brooklyn.
Not bad for a company that started just a few months ago and faced some serious backlash from the local city government.
A few months ago, I eagerly blogged about Uber, which connects users with a network of livery drivers and helps them hail a town car instead of a cab. Car-less, I've spent my fair share of drizzly San Francisco days waiting in vain for a cab to know of a good transportation solution when I see one. Uber fills the taxi void by providing a reliable and safe alternative to taxis by creating a network of on-duty livery drivers and making an application that will lets users connect with them to request rides.
Shortly after the post went live, I received an e-mail from a taxi driver calling the service illegal and unsafe. We agreed to disagree, and then I moved to New York where cabs are more plentiful and less expensive, but equally terrifying. In October I received another e-mail from the same taxi driver (who I found out was soon to be a San Francisco taxi medallion holder), showing the cease-and-desist order that the SFMTA issued Uber, detailing the numerous ways it was in violation of city and state regulations. Once the taxi commission sighted Uber in its crosshairs, I figured it was the end of the company.
But Uber is far from struggling. Since the blog post, it raised $1.25 million in venture capital, moved into new office space in San Francisco, and released an Android app. Despite the cease-and-desist order, Graves says his company never shut down or stopped service, and has been working with the SFMTA to address each of violations, beginning with the obvious company name change. In San Francisco, only permitted taxis can advertise themselves as taxis or cabs, including having those words in the company name. Hence the name change from UberCab to just Uber.
Since there's a 10-year waiting list to get one of those coveted taxi medallions in San Francisco, I can see why cab drivers would be threatened by the service and worried that it would take away potential revenue. While that remains to be seen, the technology has been a boon to another segment: livery drivers. Graves says that his application and platform has enabled private car companies to increase revenue, add more cars, and hire more drivers.
The chilly reception from start-up-friendly San Francisco local government was a good learning experience as Uber looks to expand next year to other cities, and is already eyeing New York City as its next potential target. Uber's app is available for Android and iPhones, but in addition to SMS service (which Graves tends to use), the start-up is working on a universal mobile site that will work on any mobile device browser. The move should enable the company to reach a larger share of the smartphone demographic.
Although cabs aren't in short supply, the expansion to NYC is a much-needed service for those dead hours and during shift changes when it's next to impossible to get a cab to stop for you. And the service would be a great marketing tool for smaller car services that don't have the marketing budget to compete with larger private car services services that offer iPhone apps for easier booking.