When trying to find rates on car services to go to and from a hotel for a wedding recently, I learned something: Having a car service is not dramatically more expensive than a taxi. The problem is that getting a service is not nearly as easy as hailing a cab. Uber, an app for iPhone and Android, means to change that with on-demand car service right from the phone, but they're going to have to get the city to alter some of its regulations before they can do it.
Uber acts as a go-between for customers and drivers. All the drivers must be licensed and insured by city regulation, something Uber checks with regularity. Once the driver is registered with Uber, users can simply request a car and get a ride and the money is automatically pulled from the credit card on file. No hassling with cash or ATMs at 2 a.m.
But first they have to dig through some city red tape.
According to Uber spokesperson Nairi Hourdajian, there are several antiquated laws on the books that are preferential to taxis and limit car services. "Currently there is a fare minimum of $70 on any for-hire car ride (i.e., town car or limo), meaning that someone who wants to take a town car from Montrose to Downtown, for example, wouldn't be able to do so for less than $70, even though the ride takes less than 15 minutes," she said in an e-mail.
Additionally, any driver for hire must have a fleet of three vehicles, ruling out independents. "[These regulations] stifle innovation, limit consumer choice and result in inferior service for residents and visitors," Hourdajian said.
This week, Uber is in town to drum up interest in the app and deliver ice cream the same way they deliver rides to Houstonians. They've even started a petition to convince the city to ease regulations so they can begin service here.
Who knows if it will work, but anything giving Houston residents more options on transportation, particularly in a city where transportation options are limited, is a good thing.
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