by Alex Gronke
Uber is offering free rides in the East Bay this weekend following a string of less than stellar publicity for the four-year-old, San Francisco-based company.
On New Year’s Eve, an Uber driver killed a six-year-old walking with her mother in a Tenderloin crosswalk. A week later, Uber users on the East Coast were enraged by high fares charged during a snowstorm. Uber called the hike “surge pricing,” according to theNew York Times.
And on Monday, Parisian cabbies smashed the windows and slashed the tires of Uber cars at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports to protest what taxi drivers there deem unfair competition. The French government allows smartphone-based transportation companies to operate so long as they wait 15 minutes before picking up a passenger.
The wait may not be 15 minutes, but Uber is advising users taking advantage of the promotion this weekend to expect delays due to high demand. The offer includes two free rides up to $30 in value for travel in and between Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, Piedmont, El Cerrito, Lamorinda, Alameda, San Leandro, San Ramon, Danville, Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill.
Uber rates are fixed and rides are arranged by smartphone. After summoning a car on the Uber app, customers can watch their ride approach on the app’s map. The Uber website notes there’s “no need to tip.”
The East Bay giveaway follows a price cut in 16 cities announced last week after the spate of bad publicity. Uber told drivers it was sacrificing almost all of its revenue with an eye on capturing new users, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The current rate is an initial fee of $3 plus $1.50 a mile. On Wednesday morning, a ride from MacArthur BART to Oakland International Airport was $25. The wait time was six minutes.
Early in January, Patch asked readers in the East Bay what they thought of Uber. This response from Edward Benick on the Alameda Patch Facebook page is representative of the answers: “Love it. We use it all the time. Clean, on time, nice people.”
Drivers may like Uber more than passengers.
Unlike their unionized counterparts in France, cabbies in the Bay Area are abandoning traditional taxi companies for Uber and other ridesharing startups like Lyft and Sidecar. In the last year, a third of the 8,500 cabbies in San Francisco have switched to the high-tech competition, according to Fortune.
The story of an Uber driver in the East Bay explains the exodus. When Abiye used to drive a taxi in Oakland, the first $625 he made every week went to the cab company. That would leave him with about $800 after a six-day week of 12-hour days. But for the past seven months he’s been part of Uber’s network of drivers and he says he now takes home an average of $1,200 a week. That includes deductions for tolls, gas, payments on the 2012 Toyota Highlander he bought for his new driving gig and the roughly three percent Uber takes from every fare.