Uber is expanding a feature that offers hourly rates for rides into the US in a move aimed at customers looking to make essential trips during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Hourly feature, which charges a flat hourly rate, has already been rolled out in some cities in Australia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, but hasn’t previously been available in the US.
Uber pitched the feature as a way for riders to take trips to multiple destinations without being exposed to multiple drivers and vehicles.
Users have been able to visit multiple destinations within a single trip since 2017, but the addition of a flat rate may appeal to some.
The company’s ride-share fees are generally based on trip distance and demand.
Uber director of rider operations Niraj Patel also said the feature could mean “an additional earnings opportunity for drivers as we move forward in this ‘new normal'”.
Users initially set the amount of time they estimate the trip should take, and then lock in that amount of time at a flat rate of $50 (£41) per hour, paying the set amount even if the trip takes less time.
If the trip goes over the initial time estimate users pay a prorated additional per-minute fee based on the $50-per-hour rate.
The trips have a mileage limit that varies depending on the city, set at 40 miles in some areas, with users who go over that limit paying an additional per-mile fee.
Some other restrictions also apply, with trips to or from airports, for instance, not being allowed under the scheme. The fees don’t include surcharges such as tolls.
Uber said it expects the feature to be used for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies and doctor’s appointments, but would monitor usage going forward.
Uber said it would roll out the option in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, DC, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Tacoma and Seattle as of 2 June, with more cities planned for the coming weeks.
Last month Uber began requiring both drivers and riders to wear face masks or coverings, with both parties able to cancel a trip and report participants who don’t comply with the safety measure. Accounts of both drivers and riders can be deactivated if they repeatedly break the safety rules.
Uber has said it would lay off about 25 percent of its staff as part of a range of cost-cutting measures designed to achieve profitability in spite of the pandemic’s financial impact.
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