ORLANDO, Fla. - Uber launched its UberX service in Orlando on Wednesday, as city officials try to figure out if the service is operating legally.
"Uber has had no contact with our vehicles for hire section- zero contact," said Sgt. Jim Young with the Orlando Police Department, saying the drivers do not have "vehicle for hire" permits that are posted on taxicabs around town. But according to Uber employees, ride-sharing does not require such a permit.
Uber has been advertising an Orlando expansion for months and has already hired hundreds of drivers.
"We had thousands and thousands of signups on both sides, riders and drivers," said Billy Guernier, general manager of regional expansion for Uber. "Orlando is a city, it's very spread out, driving is generally a requirement. Public transportation isn't that great and people need alternatives."
Tuesday night, many of them gathered at a meet and greet in downtown Orlando to go over the software and get any questions answered by Uber staff before hitting the road Wednesday.
"I signed up as a part-time job just to get a little extra money. I love driving and I know all the back streets in Orlando because I've been here all my life," said Nicole Rudolph, who said she will drive from about 7 p.m. - 2 a.m most days, in addition to her full-time insurance job.
UberX is just one of Uber's services. UberX drivers use their own vehicles to give people rides. Anyone with a vehicle made in 2004 or later that has four doors, a proper license and valid insurance can qualify to be a driver.
"We've put them through stringent background checks," Guernier said. "We have an insurance policy that covers up to $1 million in incident."
Users request rides through a smartphone app. You launch the app, and using a map, pinpoint where you want to be picked up. You then plug in where you want to go and enter your credit card information. The app will calculate how much your ride will cost and even send you a picture of the driver and his or her car that will be coming to get you.
The goal is for someone to arrive within five minutes. Uber charges a $2.00 base charge and then $1.50 per mile and $0.15 per minute.
The ride-sharing method of the app and drivers being independent contractors has allowed UberX to get around regulations in place in other cities and operate without the same licensing as cab drivers. It has caused a stir in places like Tampa, where drivers were being ticketed for not having proper permits.
"UberX is a really a new paradigm. So in most cases, it doesn't even fit into the local regulations. Now, you're starting to see in some places, cities and states start to address ride-sharing and put some rules around it," said Guernier.
Uber will offer free rides in Orlando for the first couple of weeks.
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