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Tennis star Wawrinka test-drives Uber app
Photo: Uber.com

Tennis star Wawrinka test-drives Uber app

Published: 26 Jun 2013 12:18 GMT+02:00
Updated: 26 Jun 2013 12:18 GMT+02:00

A ride-sharing application for smartphones that offers an alternative to taxis is making its debut in Switzerland in Zurich with a splash.

Uber, a San Francisco-based company that developed the app, nabbed one of Switzerland’s top celebrities, tennis star Stanislaus Wawrinka, as its first customer on Wednesday.

The app allows customers to use mobile phones to book rides online with limousine companies and private drivers.

Uber has begun testing in Zurich its ride-share program, already available in more than 30 cities worldwide.

After convincing him to try the Uber app, the company showed on its website blog a photo of Wawrinka leaning against a Mercedes limousine with a tennis racket in hand.

The app lets customers pay by credit card, so no money is exchanged, and it incorporates a GPS that runs like a meter.

Riders pay a little extra but in return they get to ride in a limousine.

The touted advantage for limousine operators is they can maximize the use of their vehicles.

In a wrinkle designed to encourage good service — and good behaviour from customers — the app even allows drivers and passengers to rate each other.

“We certainly can’t compete with the local world-class chocolatiers, cheesemakers or mountain ranges,” the company says on its website.

“However, when it comes to travelling, we’ve got a hunch we can help the world’s most efficient transportation network become just a little more Swiss.”

Uber was founded as UberCab by three entrepreneurs, including the current CEO, Travis Kalanick, in 2009.

The company launched its mobile app a year later in San Francisco on iPhones and Android phones.

After being accused of illegal taxicab operation in San Francisco, the company in 2011 changed its name from UberCab to Uber.

The company claims it has hooked up thousands of drivers with hundreds of thousands of customers.

It expanded beyond North America to launch services in Europe, starting in Paris in December 2011.

It now also has apps for Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Lyon, Milan, Munich, Rome and Stockholm.

However, in some cities — Vancouver, Canada is one example — it has faced regulatory hurdles that have made it difficult if not impossible to operate, usually because regular taxi operators are opposed to the ride-sharing app.

It has encountered resistance in Italy and Sweden but continues to operate in those countries.

Uber suffered a blow this week when it received a “cease-and-desist” letter from the city of Los Angeles, along with two other ride-sharing app companies.

The city and one its taxi operators claims the companies are running “rogue taxis” that are “bypassing all safety regulations created to protect riders and drivers”.

Uber maintains that is simply using technology to match customers with existing services that are approved and registered.

In Zurich, the company acknowledged that its supply of cars “may be limited” during its testing phase.

“Rest assured that we’ll be adding cars every day until your private transportation experience is running as smoothly as the Swiss timepiece you’re wearing on your wrist.”

Uber also let slip that it is looking to hire a general manager for Zurich, plus a community manager for marketing, social media and support.

For more information email kundenservicezurich@uber.com

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

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