Uber wants businesses to do away with shuttle buses for customers, and has launched a new service aimed at making it easier for companies to hail cars on other people’s behalf. Called Uber Central, the software lets users request cars even for people who don’t have accounts with the ride-hailing company.
Here’s how it works: company employees who have access to the Uber Central console input a customer’s name and phone number, along with their pickup and drop-off address. After that, they can request a ride from Uber’s menu of services, or save the data as a draft for easier use later.
The Uber Central dashboard, which is available worldwide, also lets employees track the status of rides. It’s built on top of Uber for Business, a version of the ride-hailing platform that has been built for use by companies rather than individuals.
Uber for Business is a move by the ride-hailing company to provide rides for business customers that are then charged back to the company those people work for. That program has been running for a few years and has over 65,000 customers.
Using Uber for Business, administrators can set limits on which approved users can request rides from selected services at selected times. That way, users can’t “accidentally” expense a ride to go out clubbing on a Saturday night. Those same settings trickle down to Uber Central, too, so that console operators are restricted to only the settings administrators allow.
The ride-hailing company will send businesses a bill every month for the rides taken using Uber for Business. Those companies that want to pass the cost on to their guests will be able to view information about ride cost from Uber Central, plus download that data using an API or as a CSV file that gets compiled daily.
Drivers won’t be told ahead of time that they’ll be driving someone on behalf of a business. At the end of a ride, drivers will review the business, and vice versa, rather than reviewing individual riders. Businesses using the service have access to a set of people at Uber who are supposed to help with any issues that may come up as well.
Uber will be keeping an eye on businesses’ use of Central to make sure that they’re not causing problems for the network of drivers who work for the ride-hailing company, and adjust the program as needed. The company especially wants to make sure that businesses don’t call a ride too far ahead of time and then force drivers to wait for their passengers to show up.
“In those types of cases, where we’ll see super-high driver cancellation rates, we have to be super-proactive about that because it makes our network a lot less efficient, and it also makes our drivers unhappy,” said Greg Greiner, the head of product for Uber for Business.
The company is also hoping that this service can help provide demand for wheelchair-accessible vehicles. That may help shore up issues that have put the company in legal hot water. A Chicago disability advocacy group is suing the ride-hailing titan, alleging that Uber didn’t provide enough accessible ride service in the windy city. (Uber disputes that claim.)
Businesses using the service have to be comfortable associating themselves with Uber, of course, which might be something of a rough proposition given the company’s current woes. The business is currently undergoing an internal investigation into allegations of gender-based discrimination, while Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is seeking leadership help after being caught on video arguing with a driver.
That said, this service could help further cement Uber’s grip on transportation infrastructure by expanding the service’s utility. Left doesn’t currently have a similar product, which gives Uber an advantage in a rough-and-tumble market.
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