On-Demand Car Service Uber is Ready to Disrupt Providence

Sep 3, 2013

Uber, the on-demand car service that lets users summon a ride via a smart phone app, is set to formally launch in Providence on September 12 (5:30 pm at Tazza, on Westminster Street).

As I recently tweeted in reporting the company's arrival in RI, Uber is a favorite of techies and its origin points to the creative power of the Internet:

"Two start-up types were stuck searching for a taxi in the rain outside a meeting in Paris a few years back when they struck on a disrupting concept -- Uber, a phone-based app that lets users summon a car for hire in minutes with the metaphorical push of a button. The resulting company has provided a new revenue stream for would-be drivers, demonstrating what Wired calls "a new way of thinking about personal resources and infrastructure."

Just how disruptive is Uber? Some of the service's drivers have filed a class-action suit over tips in San Francisco. Uber is pursuing an aggressive expansion in Asia, even as it has faced a backlash from taxi drivers in DC and other cities.

Slate's Matthew Yglesias last week pointed to Google's $258 million investment in Uber in describing the larger stakes (including the emergence of on-demand barbecue delivery!):

Google’s interest in Uber is likely connected to their ongoing investments in driverless or autonomous cars, and it shows that the potential of this technology is much greater than is commonly realized. By the same token, however, the stakes in ongoing regulatory battles between tech startups and taxi regulators are higher than most people know. This is not just the future of yuppies getting a ride home from the bar. It’s a set of issues that has the potential to radically remake the American landscape.

But to get there, regulators would have to want cheaper and better taxi service. Current trends make it unclear that they do.

Back in RI, Uber is being welcomed by the techies and other fans, including Deborah Gist. But ready or not, the service looms as another challenge for local taxi drivers, who were unable to convince lawmakers this year to undo a 7 percent imposed on their fares back in 2011.