Farewell, Flagging

For all of us who’ve waited forever on Valencia Street on a Saturday night to catch a ride or cringed at the feel of a sticky vinyl seat-Uber, the town car for commoners, has arrived. The company’s new app lets anyone in San Francisco with a cell phone and a credit card book a car service on command. It’s about 1.7 times the cost of a taxi, but with just one click, you can hail a Mercedes (or an Escalade or, of course, Prius) to whisk you away.

At press time, Uber was under attack by the S.F. municipal transportation agency, the public utilities commission, and the taxi industry for supposedly violating insurance and licensing regulations-only a taxi can pick up people on command; limos and car services need to be booked in advance. In response, uber decided to drop “cab” from its original name, Ubercab, and argued that technology has changed what “in advance” means. “Two minutes is still in advance,” says Uber marketing consultant Austin Geidt. Given this curious logic, and the fact that cab drivers don’t like what they consider to be illegal competition, the squabble will no doubt continue.

Despite the cease-and-desist order, the number of Uber users has continued to skyrocket. And the service isn’t just for the wealthy. “I’m not exactly rolling in dough,” says 32-year-old software designer Sarah Harrison, “but when I’m exhausted and out of cash, it’s great. You just place a virtual pin on a map, tap a button, and your car comes. You don’t have to talk to anybody, wait on hold, or worry that there’s confusion about Second Street versus Second Avenue.” Best of all, no more pacing the street waiting for your cab to arrive: you can track your car’s location while sipping that final nightcap in the bar.

$8 base ride plus $4.90 per mile, uberapp.com