Totally Uber Cool

The buzz about Uber, a tech-hip private car service that launched in Sonoma and Napa this spring.

Driver Edric Jurado stands ready to serve Uber clients in Wine Country. (photo by Chris Hardy)

Sure, we have taxis and chauffeur-driven cars in Wine Country, but the buzz now is about Uber, a tech-hip private car service that launched in Sonoma and Napa this spring and is a bargain compared to other hired rides. Uber has spread to 70 cities since it’s 2009 debut; it was only a matter of time before the San Francisco branch extended north.

There are three options: uberX is the low-cost one, with a base fare of $3 for a car that seats up to four people. Meant to be economical, the car that pulls up will either be a fuel-efficient Toyota Prius, Honda Civic or Ford Escape Hybrid. On top of the base rate, it’s 30 cents per minute plus $1.50 per mile, a minimum fare of $5 and a $5 cancellation fee.

UberBlack elevates the vehicle to a Lincoln Town Car, Mercedes-Benz or, puzzlingly, a Ford Focus, with a base fare of $7 and fees of 55 cents per minute and $3.50 per mile, and a minimum fare of $15. The cancellation fee is $10.

There’s also UberSUV, which gets pricier yet seats a lot more people.

To use the service, download the Uber app to a smartphone and set up an account. Set the app to pin your location via GPS to arrange a pickup from an Uber driver. Payment is made electronically, through the phone.

Uber appeals not only because of lower fares, but because drivers arrive promptly (the Uber car closest to the rider gets the business), and there’s no more hailing a cab from the street corner.

For now, Uber provides service within the city limits of Santa Rosa and Sonoma, and from Napa north to Yountville.