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On-Demand Car Service Hopes to Transform Santa Barbara’s Taxi Transportation Market

Uber Santa Barbara officially launches smartphone app-based ride sharing to compete for cab customers

A new taxi-on-demand type of transportation launched last week in Santa Barbara, allowing locals to summon a ride in real time via a smartphone app and sans cash or tip.

Billed as a fret-free experience, Uber Santa Barbara is the latest tech-savvy, ride-sharing service to use cell phones and mapping to connect riders with nearby drivers to safely get passengers from Point A to Point B.

The new taxi in town isn’t really much of a taxi at all, though, at least not in the traditional sense.

Uber, which first launched in San Francisco in 2009, hires independent contractors to transport up to four passengers in the drivers' own pre-inspected cars, which don’t have running meters.

Passengers pay a flat rate — Isla Vista to downtown Santa Barbara with no extra stops is $25, for example — and can split the cost of a cab on multiple credit cards, which is the only form of payment accepted.

Santa Barbara will join more than 35 other cities around the globe that already boast the Uber brand and the somewhat controversial model that comes with it.

The prearranged-ride platform has attracted enough ire from traditional taxi companies in other cities that the California Public Utilities Commission had to lay out special rules for the cars in a recent decision, with a no-hail policy among them.

Andy Iro, a UC Santa Barbara graduate and former soccer player who went on to play professionally for the Columbus Crew, will serve as Uber Santa Barbara’s community manager, working part time locally and from company offices in Santa Monica.

Iro is also one of several local licensed drivers, who offer one of two car options.

The UberX — think Prius or some other hybrid — is lauded as being 30 percent cheaper than a regular taxi, while the Uber black car option is a more spacious sedan, although not necessarily black.

Santa Barbara’s college-aged demographic was a major draw for the company, Iro said, as well as relatively high DUI rates.

“It’s just a really clean platform,” he told Noozhawk. “There’s no tip. There’s no cash. It’s all about supply and demand.

“You have your own personal driver. Why even risk it? It is very much a community service.”

Transportation network companies, such as Uber, are required to obtain an operating permit from the state public utilities commission, although drivers aren’t held to the same standard.

Traditional taxi company owners must secure a business license from the city, and all drivers need permits and meters in their cars, according to Sue Morris, operations director of Santa Barbara Yellow Cab.

Morris said mobile booking has been available locally for a few years, but many customers haven’t bought into it or don’t like using credit cards.

When customers stumble out of State Street bars and see hundreds of cabs waiting for them, they don’t worry much about prearranging a ride, she added.

“Everybody and their uncle and their cousin decided to become a cab driver,” Morris said.

Santa Barbara police Sgt. Riley Harwood said local authorities are aware of the new service and won’t be treating the cars as your average taxi.

“It’s a new type of conveyance,” Harwood said. “They are not taxi cabs, and they are not bound by our city municipal codes. I guess it’s kind of an example of how the law is one step behind technology.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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