On-demand car service Uber launches Wednesday in Evanston, its first foray into the Chicago suburbs and a new option for Northwestern students as they start the academic year.
The San Francisco-based company produces a smartphone app that allows customers to call a car to their current location after creating an account and entering their credit card information. Uber says Evanston riders can expect to wait less than 10 minutes for their car to arrive.
UberBLACK, the company’s flagship service, charges a $7 base fare and 85 cents per minute when the car is traveling slower than 11 mph and $3.50 per mile when the car is traveling faster than 11 mph. Uber also offers a low-cost option known as uberX, as well as SUV and taxi services.
For example, an Uber trip from downtown Evanston to Navy Pier in Chicago could cost anywhere from about $30 to about $100, depending on the type of car, according to the company’s website.
In March, Uber announced it would spread to the suburbs, but the transition would “not happen overnight.” A map on Uber’s website shows the expansion covering most of the north and west suburbs, including pick-up locations as far north as Highland Park and west as Naperville.
Max Crowley, senior community manager for Uber in the Chicago area, said Uber picked Evanston as the starting point for its suburban expansion because the city is one of the most requested locations through the company’s customer service and on social media.
“There’s definitely been a lot of interest in Evanston,” he said. “(Our customers) really want us to have a solid presence there.”
From Wednesday through Oct. 20, Uber will offer a free ride to anyone whose trip starts or ends in Evanston.
Uber will join several transportation options in Evanston, ranging from the El and Metra to campus shuttles and SafeRide. Crowley said Uber does not want to compete with those choices but rather serve as another option when it is “worth the potentially five, 10 extra dollars to get home efficiently and safety.”
“We fill the gaps that naturally exist,” he added.
Hani Mahmassani, director of the Northwestern University Transportation Center, said Uber may be more successful among Evanston residents on “special occasions” than NU students who are used to cheaper ways of moving around campus and the city.
“Public transit may just be a better deal for students,” Mahmassani added.
But Crowley said Uber appeals to different budgets and “aligns well with the campus community,” especially when it comes to uberX. As Uber’s cheapest offering, uberX charges a $3.15 base fare and 40 cents a minute when the car is traveling slower than 11 mph and $1.75 per mile when the car is traveling faster than 11 mph.
Uber’s arrival in Evanston coincides with its second anniversary in Chicago, where the company has grown but also faced a hostile cab lobby. In October 2012, a lawsuit filed on behalf of Chicago taxi and limousine companies accused Uber of misleading its customers to think it is partnering with them. The lawsuit also claimed Uber skirts taxi regulations in the city.
Cab service 303 Taxi, one of the largest in Chicago’s suburbs and collar counties, said in a statement that Evanston residents “threaten the survival of … long-standing local companies” when they use Uber. 303 Taxi began in 1946 with three independent contractors from Evanston.
“All across the country, and now locally, Uber has leeched off transportation companies that have established recognizable brands,” 303 Taxi spokeswoman Erica Rapoport wrote in the statement.
Andrew Macdonald, general manager for Uber in the Chicago area, called the statement a “common refrain” from taxi companies when Uber moves into their territory.
“The reality on the ground is taxi drivers are independent contractors,” he said. “At the end of the day, they’re trying to make as much money as they can. … We’re just another channel for them.”