The trendy car service went into a soft launch last night, picking up TechCrunch writer Erick Schonfeld for a 20 block ride and a $15 fare.
Yup, you read that right. It’s a stiff price, with the trade off that the entire experience runs through a mobile app, meaning users get to see where Uber cars are and watch them approach in real-time. They can also pay through the app, handy in an emergency if you’re without cash or credit card.
Even a fan of the service like Schonfeld can’t help but point out that it makes a lot less sense in New York than in taxi starved San Francisco.
“The truth is that even though it was raining, I could have grabbed a cab or hopped on the subway. I saw a few free cabs. New York City doesn’t have the same scarcity issue as San Francisco when it comes to cabs or car service. But the convenience totally outweighs the expense in certain situations—when you are late for an important meeting or want to impress a date or really can’t find a cab. I have yet to test the service in rush hour when it really counts, but I think Uber will find plenty of riders willing to pay twice as much for the feeling of a private driver.”
According to Wired, Uber is hiring a fleet of Ph.D. scholars to help them create a more efficient dispatch system. CEO Travis Kalanik is computer science grad and is employing complex algorithims that track ride requests patterns and account for weather changes and big events.
There are certainly spots in Brooklyn and Queens where it can be next to impossible to hail a cab, although there is usually a local car service or gypsy cab around. Uber might be able to fill that niche, but it’s not going to be possible with a fleet of just a few dozen cars to provide any kind of timely coverage across the city, no matter how much brain power is behind the service.