Uber is watching you, Baltimore.
That was the clear impression communicated by the Uber “God View” map, on projected display Thursday at the startup’s lunchtime launch event at City Cafe. Really, the launch event was late to its own party: the on-demand car chauffeuring service that picks up discerning riders in sleek black vehicles thanks to a couple of taps on a smartphone soft-launched in Baltimore last week.
(How does it work? Open the app on your smart phone or computer, type in your location and follow along as GPS tracks the black car coming to pick you up. You also pay and grade your driver through the app.)
As of today, Uber is openly and officially balling so hard through the streets of Charm City, which joins Stockholm and Melbourne as the newest locations for the two-year-old startup. And, yes, Uber will be picking up and dropping off all day long Super Bowl Sunday. So, score. Unless, you know, traffic.
Download the Uber app for iOS or Android, or hail a car via web or SMS.
Admittedly it seems odd bringing on-demand transportation to a city scornful of the public transportation options it has already. (No, it’s not a problem to get to Federal Hill because, well, Circulator.) But part of Uber’s magic is an analytics department based in San Francisco that tracks where people are popping open the startup’s mobile app. Since December 2011 Uber has been live in Washington, D.C., and as more eyes in Baltimore were searching for not yet available Uber vehicles, bringing car service north became a foregone conclusion.
In other words, Uber in Baltimore is “a natural fit,” said Candice Lo, 25, who splits her time between Boston, San Francisco and whatever other city as part of Uber’s launch team, a group of people who parachute (all right, fly commercial air) into Uber expansion cities to prepare unsuspecting residents for rides in black SUVs.
It’s a group Lo said Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick jokingly — or perhaps rapaciously — refers to as the startup’s SEAL Team Six, and with just cause: tech startup employees surely aren’t packing Kevlar, but its citizen equivalent in the form of black leather jackets, suits, heels and one well-positioned tie bar were on display at the launch event, along with several platters of the best damn crabcake balls ever served by way of toothpick.
For several weeks Lo has been working out of Fed Hill incubator Betamore meeting with and signing up Uber drivers, who are employees of limo companies. Her comrade-in-car-chauffeuring and Uber Baltimore general manager, Dan Might, has spent the previous week in Betamore as well, preparing Baltimore for Uber’s official launch. Typically Might works from Uber’s D.C. office with the D.C. Uber management crew.
“We don’t claim to say we need to own all the [transportation] infrastructure,” said Might, a 29-year-old Stanford business school graduate with a background in industrial engineering who grew up in D.C., attended Orioles games as a child and lived in Baltimore for two years while working for Constellation Energy. “But we’re an option for a reliable, safe, guaranteed ride, and we believe there’s room for that in Baltimore.”
Let’s hope. Uber has battled city governments in New York City, Denver and the nation’s capital for the privilege of operating Uber’s basic service as well as Uber taxi service, to the chagrin of a startup that’s re-imagining how people trek around cities.
If you need convincing, People in Baltimore City Government Who Might Be Poised for a Regulatory Smackdown, Uber in Park City gave riders the option of ordering hot cocoa with their Uber rides during the Sundance Film Festival this year.
#UberHotCocoa. Just think about it. I’m sure Uber will throw in marshmallows to sweeten the deal.