It’s tough to conjecture how San Francisco-based black car taxi service Uber will fair in Philadelphia from a five-block ride to a lunchtime launch event, but CEO and cofounder Travis Kalanick is excited about the challenge.
“I think Philly is underestimated because there are 1.5 million people in the city itself, five million people in the metro area. How many people do you think are in Manhattan?” said Kalanick. “Philly is the same size as Manhattan. I’m really pumped to prove people wrong.”
The on-demand mobile transport service officially launched in Philadelphia yesterday, it’s the 11th city, although notable Philadelphians such as venture capitalist Josh Kopelman have already survived maiden voyages during the soft launch, as Technically Philly reported.
Though Kalanick says he will leave to help launch Uber in San Diego later this week, he leaves behind a team in Philadelphia, many of whom he says are originally from the area. Kalanick says Uber intentionally hires locally every time it sets up shop in a new city. Still, the story line appears to be if Philly is as natural market as Kalanick describes it as.
Uber also works with local independent contractors and limousine services to stock its vehicle fleet, said both Kalanick and this reporter’s Uber driver, a manager of a limousine service. He says local cab drivers don’t usually get interested until they’ve seen Uber around for awhile.
“We basically find all of the limo fleets in the city on day one and we just call them and say ‘hey, we’re coming to your city,'” said Kalanick. “The pitch is we’re going to connect you to a whole bunch of riders you’ve never been connected to before.”
Uber offers many luxury advantages over the average cab service, organizers say, including rapid pick-up, tinted windows and a driver who opens your door for you, not to mention GPS tracking of an incoming ride, but Kalanick pointed out that Uber is still quite pricey — roughly 50 percent more expensive than the average cab ride.
“It’s 50 percent more — that’s still cash,” Kalanick said. “We’re also looking at doing more cost efficient stuff, like less leg room, the door wont be open for you, but it will get you around.”
To give you an idea of the cost difference, this reporter’s ride from 20th and Spruce to 17th near Sansom cost about $15, including tip.
While the convenience of hailing and paying for car service from your phone has definite appeal, the price tag may discourage most Philadelphians in places frequently serviced by regular cabs. As Uber ramps up in its 11th city, it will be interesting to see if the market here really can rival its other, perhaps more moneyed, markets.
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