In what is looking as a strategic transition to a new growth path, Uber has joined forces with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in Pinellas County, Florida, to start experimenting with a taxi dispatch system that allows people who do not have a smartphone to still order an Uber ride. Basically, the callers call a hotline and make their booking over the phone.
The pilot program is part of the local initiative that is looking to provide publicly subsidized rides from Uber. The program is targeting low-income families who do not have their vehicles or live in a place where accessibility to public transport is difficult.
Shifting its focus to a retro taxi dispatch system proves that Uber is looking to expand its customer base beyond those who use smartphones. It is also an indication that Uber wants public transit agencies to view it as a serious partner, who can offer an alternative or complementary mode of transportation to residents.
TransitCenter, a foundation that works to expand urban mobility, opines that with Uber offering more services to cater to a larger audience, it needs to evolve and change the way it works – it will need a transition from being a technology company. The foundation also states that as the company gets involved in public policy, it would have to expand its services to encompass prospective customers that do not own a smartphone or have the Uber app.
Pinellas County is the first transit agency in the U.S. to subsidize rides through Uber. That is not all. The agency has also subsided taxi rides from local taxi services that may or may not use Uber clone app. This initiative is for rides to and from certain bus stations and looks to make it easier for residents to access the transit system.
The plan will offer subsidized Uber rides each month to residents who live in far flung areas where access to the transit system is cumbersome. It includes those residents, who don’t have the Uber app. These residents will be able to avail the service during daytime hours if they need to urgently use the transit system.
The call-in taxi dispatch system leaves it up to the dispatcher to determine whether a caller is in a situation that can be categorized as urgent. However, the transit authorities state that the program would cover grocery shopping as well as medical emergencies. Since the focus is on transit-disadvantaged residents, authorities believe that this pilot program will be successful. The program has received a state grant to help subsidize Uber rides.
Uber is providing the transit authorities with the Uber app clone that will allow dispatchers to get in touch with Uber drivers and send the taxi to the address mentioned by the call-in customers.
The county will be paying Uber directly for the subsidized rides. The payment will cover all aspects of the services besides $3 flat rate that the customers will be paying.
The transit agency decided to join forces with Uber after it failed to get a local one cent sales tax passed. This tax would have helped expand the mass transit options – more buses and creating a light rail system. However, after the failure to get the penny tax passed, the agency had to reduce its existing bus service.
Opportunity for Uber
The transit agency and Uber’s partnership is more than just an opportunity to fill transportation gaps. It offers Uber the chance to reach out to new potential customers while ensuring that it can provide its ride services to those who do not have the Uber app.
Until now Uber was competing with taxi companies that used Uber clone app to hail rides. However, with the ride-hailing giant now adopting taxi dispatch system, Uber will be shifting towards the conventional taxi services that people are used to. This is quite a shift from its business model, but if the pilot project works in Pinellas County, it will pave the way for Uber to run similar services in other parts of the country.