The wildly-popular ride-sharing app Uber lands in Charleston and three other South Carolina cities today, and for a few days only, your first few rides using the ad hoc taxi service can be free.
Uber uses the location of your iOS or Android device to help you hail a private car driven by one of its freelance driver to shuttle ride-seekers assigned to them on the fly from place to place.
The service first launched in San Francisco before expanding to other large cities, using familiar black cars and drivers specifically hired to handle Uber customers. But as competitors cropped up, the startup eventually launched UberX, the service Charleston will see initially, that allows anyone who passes a background check and an auto inspection to be an UberX driver using their personal vehicles.
Officials from the company held meetings Wednesday in North Charleston to brief potential drivers ahead of today's noon launch, pitching Charleston's dining and attractions as major draws for Uber users and drivers.
Fares for a ride using UberX will range from $9 to get you from the market area to the Citadel to $15 from King St to North Charleston. A ride to the airport from Downtown will cost around $27. Fares fluctuate during peak demand though, when the app uses controversial "surge pricing" as more users request rides from a limited number of drivers.
“Whether you’re heading to the beach, shopping on King Street or enjoying a night out with friends, let Uber be your ride,” Uber’s Kaitlin Durkosh said in an email announcing today’s launch.
For their part, local and state governments have spoken up ahead Uber's launch in Charleston. The state’s Office of Regulatory Services issued an advisory for travelers, notifying them of the risks of traveling using vehicles not licensed by the state. The City of Charleston’s legal department issued a dispatch of their own, in a letter dated May 16, conceding that, “while the city is amenable to the idea of Uber Technologies, Inc. expanding into the Charleston transportation market,” the issue comes down to following the letter of the law. As of today, the city still has not heard back from Uber, says Assistant Corporation Counsel Janie Borden, adding that city lawyers would be happy to talk with the company.
“Should Uber Technologies, Inc. begin operating in the City of Charleston without complying with state and local law,” Borden said in the May 16 letter, “the City will have no other choice but to issue a cease and desist order.” As it stands now, Borden says Uber drivers need to be licensed by the city in the same way other taxi drivers do, or face a fine of $1,097 per violation and 30 days in jail.
An Uber spokesperson told the Post and Courier’s Abigail Darlington that the conflict comes down to whether the company is considered a technology company or a transportation company.
“Our hope is to work with those city and state officials to modify those regulations for ride-sharing and find a permanent home for Uber in the city and the state,” Uber spox Taylor Bennett told the P&C.
Uber launched at noon today. New and existing users can get five rides for free by visiting uber.com/go/sclovesuber.