Uber in Honolulu, the private car service app comes to Oahu

Black car service? So what? What Uber has to offer may be more than that.

photo: Dallas Nagata White

How it compares:

Uber Rates:
$15 minimum fare
$7 base fare + $3.80/mile and $0.80/minute
Taxi (TheCab or EcoCab) Rates:
$3.10 base fare + $3.20/mile and $0.53/minute*

* based on rates for 1/8 mile and 45 seconds waiting time

Honolulu just became the 36th city to be Uber-ed.

Uber, the San Francisco-based startup, is an on-demand black car service that doesn’t own any black cars. At its most basic, it’s a smartphone app that summons a private driver.

How it works: Once you make your request via the app, Uber gives you a time estimate of when to expect your car, a picture of your driver’s face, and then alerts you via text when it arrives. The impatient or curious can watch the car coming on the map.

It arrives, a Lincoln Town Car or even an Escalade. If taxis are coach, then this is business class, with smiling service, leg room, cold AC and bottled water.

When you download the app, you enter your credit card information, so when you arrive at your destination, you just get out and go—there’s no money exchanged, tip is included. Uber charges your card automatically, sends you a receipt and you can rate your driver (and vice versa).

So it’s convenient, but what’s the big deal? Does Honolulu need a service like Uber? Luxury aside, it’s not so different from calling 422-2222. And unlike other Uber cities, we’re not much of a taxi town anyway. So why is Uber here?

In a word: tourists. Uber targeted Honolulu in its expansion plans (though, really, 41 cities from Indianapolis to Mexico City now have Uber) because it found many people opening its app here, most likely travelers accustomed to using the service at home. That, and Honolulu is relatively loose in its taxi rules. Uber has faced fines and cease-and-desist letters in almost every major U.S. city. That’s not as likely in Honolulu, where the market is less regulated.

But Brooke Steger, a general manager at Uber, suggests that, for locals, Uber could be a way out of our traffic woes, years before rail will be finished. “Uber helps facilitate getting cars off the road,” she says. It’s complementary to public transportation and “makes people more comfortable to get rid of their cars.” Currently, it seems a stretch: Uber in Honolulu simply replaces a personal car with a chauffeured one—how does that relieve traffic?

In some cities, Uber has rolled out a carshare program. Right now, in Honolulu, it’s just connecting people to a luxury car service, but in other places, Uber has expanded into amateur driver car sharing. Need a ride? The app will find the nearest person with a car in the network via GPS. They get paid, you get a quick ride.

And even further down the line, Uber founder Travis Kalanick has hinted that Uber isn’t going to just deliver cars: “FedEx delivers packages in a day, but Uber delivers a Town Car in five minutes,” Kalanick said at a tech conference. “And once you can deliver a Town Car, you can deliver pretty much anything.” Uber has already done some test deliveries: flower deliveries on Valentine’s Day, on-demand barbecue in Austin, ice cream on request in 33 cities.

Kalanick wants you to think of Uber as “the cross between lifestyle (give me what I want and give it to me right now) and the logistics to get it to you.” So, Honolulu, what do you want?

Did you know? Google just invested $258 million in Uber. Uber’s current valuation? $3.5 billion.