It calls itself a technology company that is solving how people move about in cities. Others call it a myriad of things ranging from a private taxi fleet to an on-demand ride service to a cab service for the well heeled. However you might define it, Uber is making waves in cities around the world for its innovative spin on the cars for hire business. It is present in more than 45 cities in 19 countries with new cities being added almost on a weekly basis. And today Uber is launching its services in Delhi.
Bangalore was the first Indian city where Uber launched its services six weeks ago in what the company called a “secret testing mode” to get the pricing right. “Bangalore was the obvious choice for us as it is considered to be India’s Silicon Valley,” Uber’s Neeraj Singhal tells me while sharing his business card with the designation “International Launcher” printed under his name. He essentially lives out of a suitcase and hops from one city to another launching the service.
It is difficult to describe Uber, which was founded in 2010 in San Francisco. From the outside and how most users will eventually use the service, it is a high-end cab service, where users can summon a cab instantly from an app on their phones. But the experience is nothing like a regular cab service. There is no need to dial any number, wait for an executive to receive your call who would or would not provide you with an ETA. You don’t have to book it hours in advance, either. The app would give you details of the nearest cab and an estimated ETA.
“We are a technology company,” Singhal insists. One of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley, Uber is backed by solid VC’s like Google Ventures, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Menlo Ventures, Goldman Sachs, TPG Capital and Benchmark Capital.
Uber does not own any cars but ties up with companies that already own them. Its technology is the conduit between people needing a chauffeur-driven car at any time and fleets that are available for hire. The current fleet of cars in Delhi include a mix of Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Mercedes E and S class, BMW 3 and 5 Series and Audi Q3, A4 and A6.
The base fare in Delhi is Rs 70. Users will be charged Rs 20 per kilometre and Rs 2 per minute. The minimum fare will be Rs 200 and are uniform across cars.
“The first thing that people think is it will be expensive. But on using it once they realize that isn’t the case,” says Singhal. Uber has a varied target audience. From businessmen travelling from other cities to youngsters planning a night out. Expect Uber cars to be a regular fixture near five star hotels, where it expects a lot of business to come from. But there would be no way for others to find out whether it is an Uber car.
Unlike other cab services, all Uber cars are unmarked and devoid of any branding or advertising. “We want to give our users a private chauffeur-driven car experience. All our cars comply with every local regulation and have commercial license plates. They have permits to travel all across the country,” Singhal says.
Singhal won’t tell me how Uber is doing in Bangalore, only mentioning that these are still early days for the company in India. The company calls Delhi as its flagship city for India and has plans to launch in many more cities. “All I can tell you at this point is we plan to be present in India’s top cities,” says SInghal, keeping his cards close to his chest. However, a quick look at the company’s careers page reveals it is hiring in Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai, which should give us a sense of its launch cities for India.
Specifically for Delhi, Uber is introducing a “Share my ETA” feature where users can press a button on the app to share a link with others who can track the car in real-time and also get the car and driver’s details. The receiver does not have to be an Uber user. For the first few weeks Uber will be available only in Central and South Delhi along with some parts of Gurgaon, but the company aims to cover entire NCR soon.