Uber is introducing an option that allows riders in the U.S. to book trips by the hour, the latest in a string of offerings the company has launched to offset the impact of the pandemic. Uber has in recent weeks been trialing its new hourly service in a handful of cities around the world, including in Europe, Australia, Africa, and the Middle East. From June 2, riders in 12 U.S. cities will also be able to book by the hour.
With demand for ride-hailing services plummeting due to social-distancing measures, Uber has had to double down on food delivery and micromobility, among other investments — though the company still had to lay off a significant chunk of its workforce. With lockdowns beginning to ease in the U.S. and elsewhere, demand for ride-hailing services could rise a little — but with many cities reclaiming roads from cars to make more room for pedestrians and bikes, Uber and its ilk are unlikely to see normal service levels resume in the near future. Hourly bookings effectively open Uber up to new use cases, such as running errands, moving to a new home, or even sightseeing.
The initiative follows an extensive safety program through which Uber distributed millions of pieces of personal protective equipment to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 between drivers and their passengers.
For the new hourly booking service, riders enter a destination and can add up to three intermediate stops per hour, though they can also edit these stops during the journey. It’s worth noting that they can’t choose airports or a location outside the city that they’re in.
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When the rider selects the hourly tier, they are charged a set $50 amount — so even if they cut the trip short, they will still pay the full hourly rate. They can choose to pay for up to seven hours in advance, with the price rising by $50 for each additional hour.
The rates don’t include tolls and other surcharges, and there is also a mileage limit for each hour booked — this varies by city, but a typical limit is around 40 miles. Any trip that runs over the hour will be charged additionally on a per-minute basis, and if a trip goes beyond the mileage limit, riders will also be charged a per-mile rate for the extra miles.
Hourly bookings make some sense for Uber, opening the company to a market previously held by the likes of Zipcar — though with the addition of a personal driver and at a vastly inflated price. But it also highlights the lengths Uber is going to as it prepares for the likelihood that social distancing will continue for some time. Last month, Uber launched a service that allows its users to deliver anything they want, with drivers effectively serving as couriers.
Uber’s new hourly bookings will go live from Tuesday in the following 12 cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Washington D.C., Dallas, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Tacoma, and Seattle. More locations will be added in the weeks to come.