Luxury cabs now available for daily city commute

Chennai’s infamous auto drivers have another reason to worry as they will soon find high-end cars competing for commuters on city roads. Luxury cab service Uber officially launched in the city on 27th February, after four weeks of testing the market and garnering some buzz via social media.

The company operates through a mobile app that allows users to arrange rides in luxury cars (imagine a Mercedes picking you up after work). Customers can log in and see exactly how far the nearest cab is and the maps system allows drivers to figure out the pick-up location without needing explanations and directions. In a country where language can be an issue when travelling from state to state, the app has the natural advantage of skipping the confusion. A simple 3G positioning will allow the driver to figure out where to come, while giving you the option of figuring out where exactly the driver is as well.

The USP of the brand is the luxury on offer, high-end cars operating at regular cab rates, but according to their Head of EMEA & India Expansion Jambu Palaniappan, Uber’s focus is on providing reliable service every single time. “We’ve seen an amazing response in Chennai,” Palaniappan said, “that surpassed Bangalore, Delhi and Hyderabad. Adding that the brand saw response from all demographics, it’s the ‘Mylapore maamis’, he said, who had been his target audience. “We want Uber to be your go-to ride even when you want to go grocery shopping,” added Allen Penn, the Head of Asia for Uber.

Talking about their competitive pricing, Palaniappan says that the company's focus remains on ensuring that there are rides available at short notice. Between the online system that instantly connects customers to the nearest available cab and the tracking process on a smooth mobile app, Uber seems to be targeting the average city goer giving them a choice between a luxury chauffer service or navigating traffic.

What works in Uber’s favour is the simplicity of the process – you can book a cab on your phone, alert is via a simple SMS and information like the driver’s present location, name and photograph are instantly accessible.

Payment is automatically credited to the credit card used while registering for the app, making sure hassles about having the right change are eliminated, but it also narrows down availability to only those with a credit card.

Those used to booking a cab a couple of hours in advance will have to risk it with this app, since you can only ask for one on the spot.

With its network in more than 70 cities, Uber has had its fair share of criticism in the States for their pricing strategy that increased rates during peak hours.

Palaniappan says that this strategy doesn’t apply to new markets but explains that customers are informed about the price changes in advance and it is only done to ensure that the reliability that Uber promises isn’t compromised.

Services are currently limited in Chennai as Uber is still working on hiring more vehicles for their system. But, the brand promises the city a 24-hour luxury cab on-call, at par with any other place in the world.

In Chennai, where the auto rates are among the highest in the country and cab companies that are still struggling to match demand with supply, Uber comes with the definite potential to add some luxury to city commuting.

(This article was published on February 27, 2014)
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