Uber, the San Francisco-based company with an Internet app that matches drivers to passengers who need rides, launched its service Thursday in Fresno.
Uber used its blog to announce the expansion into the Fresno market. Uber touts its service, in which customers use a smartphone app or text message to ask for a ride, as a lower-cost alternative to commercial taxis. Participating Uber drivers who are logged into the app respond to requests and the ride is charged against a credit card that the customer has on file with the company.
The Fresno launch includes a promotion in which riders can sign up with a code to receive up to six free rides valued at up to $25 each during February.
The company launched in San Francisco in 2009 and now is in 34 markets in the U.S., as well as nearly 40 other cities around the world.
"Our goal for Uber is to be available pretty much anywhere you'd want to go in Northern California," said Andrew Noyes, a company spokesman. "We've been pretty successful in this region thus far." Earlier this week, Uber began its UberX service in the Monterey/Santa Cruz area to coincide with the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament.
The arrival of Uber is likely to represent competition for established taxicab companies in Fresno, which are regulated under an entire section of the city's Municipal Code and whose fares are mandated by the Fresno City Council.
In 2008, the City Council approved an increase of rates to $3.40 for the initial pickup and first mile, $2.45 for each additional mile or 49 cents for each one-fifth of a mile, and included a provision allowing rates to be increased according to the Consumer Price Index.
The Bee was unable to reach the owners or managers of five taxicab companies licensed in Fresno for comment on Uber's expansion into the city. In other communities, cab companies have complained that ride-share services pose unfair competition because they do not face the same level of regulation as taxicabs.
Concerns also have been raised over the quality of the private drivers as well as insurance coverage. The Associated Press reported last week that Uber is the target of a wrongful-death lawsuit by the family of a girl who was killed in a San Francisco crosswalk. She was hit on New Year's Eve by an Uber driver who police said was logged into the Uber app at the time. The driver faces charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.
The state Public Utilities Commission last fall adopted regulations requiring drivers for Uber and other ride-sharing companies to have training and criminal background checks, and to have commercial liability insurance.
On its website, Uber said some drivers for UberX "are rideshare drivers providing transportation with their personal vehicles."
"Rideshare providers carry personal insurance policies" in addition to the commercial liability insurance coverage of up to $1 million per incident, the company said. "This policy covers drivers' liability from the time a driver accepts your trip request through the app until the completion of your trip."
More information on Uber's Fresno service is available on the company blog at blog.uber.com/FRESLOVESuberX.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, email@example.com or @tsheehan on Twitter.