Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Limo service Uber will launch low-cost UberX in Dallas
It will compete with new-to-Dallas service Lyft.
DALLAS Last Wednesday night, Uber marked its one-year anniversary in Dallas with a packed wingding in the Design District populated by the well-dressed, the well-fed and the well-entertained. But during a chat with The Dallas Morning News, local general manager Leandre Johns acknowledged the pink mustache in the room: Forty-eight hours after the soiree, Uber — the app-ordered limo service that has given Dallas City Hall fits — would be faced with competition from lower-priced car-sharing service Lyft, which did indeed pull into Dallas on Friday. Johns said Uber would likely fight back with its own inexpensive offering called UberX. He just wasn’t sure when.
Now we have our sort-of answer: “Very soon,” says Nairi Hourdajian, who handles public policy and communications for Uber.
UberX is nothing like the under-fire car service that’s been here for the last year. So-called UberBLACK uses limo drivers who are licensed by the city, and who have insurance through the limo companies for which they regularly drive. UberX and Lyft, though, are head-to-head competitors that rely on regular folks sharing their regular cars with other regular folks who need a lift in exchange for suggested donations.
Or, as Johns put it in his blog post this morning, it’s “a service in which partner drivers like you and me drive their own cars.” There is a screening process — background checks, driving history checks, interviews and screenings and a test that sees how well you know the city — but unlike UberBLACK, drivers don’t have city-issued limo permits.
Of course, even those city-issued limo permits didn’t stop and undercover officers and city attorneys from cracking down on limo drivers now awaiting municipal court hearings. But now it’s not clear what the city’s going to do about Uber: Mayor Mike Rawlings is having his old pal and former Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill investigate how Yellow Cab’s ordinance rewrite got to the council at the end of August in the first place. And Hill’s investigation won’t even be made public, at least initially: When it goes to council October 16 it will be presented behind closed doors in executive session.
On top of that, the proposed rewrite of the code dealing with transportation services hasn’t even made its way to the city council’s Transportation and Trinity River Committee, which is where Rawlings sent it following the late August dust-up. And the Regional Transportation Council, which likes Uber and Lyft, has asked the city to tap the brakes altogether.
When our Hanah Cho asked the city for its thoughts on Lyft last week, she received this statement from city spokesman Frank Librio: “The transportation-for-hire industry is changing, and Dallas welcomes new entrants and technology, provided that all companies operate legally and in a manner that is safe, reliable and fair to consumers.” It’s the same one he sent today when we asked about UberX.
Long story short: It’s a mess right now — the perfect time for UberX to pull up.
“The city has neither started enforcing against this ride-sharing service nor clarified its position about the legality of such services,” says Johns’ blog post, referring to Lyft. “Given the ambiguity in the city’s position, until further clarity or enforcement against existing ridesharing options, Uber plans to roll out our lower cost option uberX to Dallas very soon.”
Adds Hourdajian, “It’s just an interesting dynamic we’re seeing in Dallas. A service that uses commercially licensed, professionally insured vehicle was being enforced against, while the city is not enforcing” against Lyft.
“Our understanding had been that ‘ride-sharing’ is not permitted in Dallas,” she says. “However, we did seek clarification from the city and did not get any definitive answer. So the fact enforcement hasn’t occurred seems to indicate the city may be open to it, in which case we’ll bring UberX to market very soon.”
As in …? Hourdajian says there is no time line.
“It’s fairly certain that we’ll be bringing a lower-cost product to Dallas fairy soon,” she says. “We always look to the cities for guidance on their appetite for a lower-cost ride-sharing option, and we take their cues.”