uberFamily launches in D.C.


UberX driver, Michael Belet, checks the Uber customer app to see where other Uber drivers are working so he can determine where the best place for him to get fares might be, April 7, 2014, in the District. Thousands of local car owners have signed up in recent months to drive with one of the “ride-share” operators that use smartphone apps to link people needing rides with car owners willing to give them, for a price. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)

This post has been updated.

In its quest to become all things to all people Uber is now focusing on the family set.

The ubiquitous app-based ride service announced Thursday this week that it is expanding its uberFAMILY service, which offers customers the option of ordering a vehicle that comes with a car seat, to Washington and Philadelphia. The company already offers the service in New York. (Note: The company had originally planned to launch the service last Thursday but delayed the start to ensure they had enough vehicles with car seats a spokesman said.)

The option isn’t free — it will cost Uber customers an additional $10– but the company believes it will help expand its market.  Through a partnership between Uber and Care.com, however, the $10 fee will be waived through July 20.

“This is exactly the type of product that’s needed for busy working families,” said Uber General Manager Zuhairah Washington.

The launch of the new service comes as the app-dispatched ride service faced questions about one of its D.C. -area UberBlack drivers. The driver allegedly took three New York executives on a high-speed ride through D.C. in an effort to avoid a D.C. taxi inspector. D.C. Police are investigating the incident. A spokesman for Uber said the driver no longer affiliated with the company.

Washington said that when users open their Uber app, they’ll see a “family” option. The child must be at least one-year-old, weigh 22 pounds and be 31 inches tall.  Children who weigh 48 pounds or are 52 inches tall cannot be accommodated in the seats. Uber drivers have received special training in installing the seats, according to the Uber blog.

Under D.C. law children younger than three-years-old must ride in a child restraint seat. Children eight and younger also must be seated in a convertible or booster child safety seat. Drivers who don’t comply face fines of up to $150 and may be required to attend a child safety class. The city’s cab fleet is not required to provide child safety seats though passengers may provide their own, said Neville Waters a spokesman for the D.C. Taxicab Commission.

uberFamily joins the growing list of services offered by the app-based ride sharing company that started with  luxury black sedans. There’s also its UberX service where regular folks give rides to strangers in their personal vehicles. During the holidays Uber offered Christmas tree deliveries in some markets.

The service has proved popular with many people, but has run into regulatory trouble in the United States and around the world. Recently, Virginia fined Uber and then ordered the company to stop operating in the state until it received proper certification. Maryland regulators are studying how they will regulate the company, which bills itself as a “technology company” rather than a transportation service. The D.C. Council and D.C. Taxicab Commission are considering dueling proposals to regulate the company and similar services.

Cab drivers and the companies that employ them also have opposed their arrival in the market, saying they enjoy an unfair advantage over traditional transportation services.

(Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is an Uber investor.)

 

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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