Uber Promotes Its New Car-Sharing Service with Free Rides

UberX is meant to rival other car-sharing services like Sidecar.

Uber, the company that allows users to hail taxis and town cars from their smartphone, is launching a new downmarket option “UberX” and offering everyone free rides on it up to $20 through Thursday. The company already offers rides in black SUVs, towncars, and yellow taxis, charging different pricing for each, and with UberX it’ll now offer the same services in mid-range cars like  Toyota Priuses or Honda Accords. (Careful though, you have to be sure to select “UberX” in your app or it’ll send you one of the other types of cars, and you’ll have to pay for it.)

In a policy paper earlier this year, Uber’s CEO pretty explicitly noted that UberX is a response to so-called “ridesharing” services like Sidecar that have operated outside the realm of government regulations with relative impunity over the years. Those services allow potential drivers, who pass a company background check but aren’t necessarily licensed for commercial driving by the state, to use their own cars to offer rides to people located through use of an app. Even before Uber started hiring regular old people to do their driving, they faced lawsuits and legal challenges from cities and taxi industry groups for themselves operating outside the bounds of regulations.

Uber’s had success offering three days of free rides before. When the company launched Uber TAXI in Boston last October, it offered three days of free rides to get people hooked. Although this user found that rides were fairly easy to get in off-peak hours at the beginning of the three-day period—like say, going into work at 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning—by the end of the promotion period, word had gotten around enough that high demand made getting a ride impossible. Already, the Uber Boston Twitter account is warning people to “be patient” during rush hour because demand is far outstripping supply.