UberX arrives in Tampa Bay, offers free rides for two weeks

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After a long anxious wait, Uber is finally coming to the Tampa Bay area — or at least its low-cost offshoot, UberX.

UberX is slightly different from the standard Uber luxury car service.  They both use a smartphone app to connect drivers with passengers, but Uber is a premium option that offers rides with licensed chauffeurs in sedans and SUVs (usually black). UberX is a ridesharing program where drivers — after a rigorous screening process — use their own mid-range or hybrid vehicles to provide rides for up to four people.

To celebrate the arrival of UberX in the Bay area, starting Friday the company will give free rides (up to $50 per trip) in Tampa and St. Petersburg. The promotion will last for two weeks.  

The San Francisco-based car service currently operates in 35 countries and more than 400 cities, but in Florida, Uber only operated in Jacksonville — until today.

With the reliability of Uber and prices more than 35 percent less than a normal Tampa taxi, UberX, according their website, delivers a “seamless, reliable and affordable way to move around the city,” anywhere from the best beaches or Ybor City, all with the touch of a button.

After downloading the free Uber app, rider simply need to place a request and ride; and for two weeks, it will be at no charge.

Uber representatives say the program is still in a testing phase, and availability is limited, so they ask users to be patient for the first few weeks. If there is any problem loading the app, the company suggests refreshing Uber, and the request should go through after a few minutes.

To keep the same standards of service as Uber, all UberX drivers are required to pass a screening process, including a background and driving record check, as well as ongoing quality controls. The driver’s insurance backs all rides, as well a corporate insurance policy.

In addition, just like the Uber service, passengers will have the option to rate drivers and contribute with feedback.

Uber has been trying to reach the Tampa and Miami markets for years, but have met resistance from various taxi companies and regulatory boards.

Currently, a bill supporting Uber’s move into different Florida markets, including Tampa, has moved to the House floor after approval by the Economic Affairs Committee. The measure seeks to shift regulation of limousines from local municipalities, such as the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, and move it to the state.

If passed, the law would effectively open the door for services like Uber to join the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Miami markets.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.