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New Uber Program Allows Calls for Rides Without Smartphone App

Company plans to expand pilot program in Arizona and Florida nationwide

older man gets into the car that has arrived for him
adamkaz/Getty Images

A pilot program from Uber aims to expand the convenient ride-hailing service beyond those who own a smartphone and are proficient at navigating its app.

The company's new way to book a ride, 833-USE-UBER, lets consumers request a ride without the app. Although the feature now is available only in Arizona and Florida, the company hopes to gain insights to expand it to other states.

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"Using the Uber app can be overwhelming and overly complex,” says Danielle Sheridan, head of U.S. city operations at Uber. “Older adults often have specific questions about how our service works."

Ease of use is priority

Other Uber programs

Uber has other services that vary in availability around the country to help older and disabled riders:

• Uber Assist provides certified drivers that can give special assistance to passengers who may need extra help, such as getting in and out of the vehicle.

• Uber WAV provides Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAV) for riders who use motorized wheelchairs or scooters. A third party certifies the drivers and vehicles have a ramp to allow for the passenger to get inside.

In the development of the toll-free number, 833-873-8237, the company conducted months of research visiting places where older riders gather and speaking directly with the consumers it hopes will use the service.

"We're building a way for people to access our technology more conveniently,” Sheridan says. “For older adults, the more that we can do to unlock accessible transportation, the more we can help them live independent lives and expand their social radius."To sign up for the service, the rider will need a phone that can receive text messages. The first time the dispatch number is called, details such as name and credit card information will need to be recorded to create an account.

When it's time to request a ride, the user's phone number will be paired to that account.

To call a ride, the customer will be connected with a live Uber representative who will confirm the trip address and provide a price. Then, information such as estimated time of arrival, the Uber driver's license plate and the driver's name will be sent to the cellphone as a text message.

Option to tip in cash

It will also include an anonymized number to reach the driver — the number keeps both the driver's and the customer's personally identifiable information private as well as keeping business within Uber's network — and a link to track the trip or share with someone. Once the trip is concluded, a receipt will be sent.

Although the service doesn't have a feature to provide a tip, a rider can give a cash tip. The service differs from a taxicab ride in part because the driver won't be asking for a credit card at the conclusion of a trip.

Sheridan says the call center has enough staff so that wait times to speak with a representative, if any, will not be long. Based on the results from these programs, the company plans to expand this service across the country.

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