Uber is rolling out an experimental feature that offers the radical option to call for a car the old-fashioned way, using a 1-800 number and interacting with a human. So far the company is testing the option only in one state, but I very much hope this feature will make to the rest of the world, because there are probably a lot of people who need this.
How it works is that prospective passengers call the number, tell the human operator on the other end where they’d like to go, and provide payment details if there are none already on file. They’ll then get texts with details about the driver’s name, ETA, and license plate number — and the fact that these will come in texts presumably means you’ll have to have a cell phone at the very least. Uber doesn’t charge a fee for using the number, and passengers can request any of the usual ride options, such as Uber Black or Uber Assist.
So yeah, it sounds as though Uber is getting back to its UberCab roots a little bit here. Yeah, if you didn’t know, the company started as a cab company with a truly unsettling mascot you can find on YouTube. Without having tried it myself, it sounds an awful lot like calling a cab, if anyone still remembers doing that. According to TechCrunch, the option was “designed with older adults in mind,” though I can also see it being useful for, say, the visually impaired.
It sounds like a strange option, but the truth is I have close family members who are such technophobes that the Uber app is too much for them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fielded calls from them to help use easily accessible functions in the app. The idea of them being able to essentially call an Uber like they would a cab would take a whole lot of pressure off of them to figure out the app.
Currently the test is only running in Arizona, though Uber will probably expand it should it prove useful.