The San Francisco-based ridesharing service Uber expanded into Sonoma County Monday, extending to local passengers the mobile application that allows them to connect with drivers of vehicles for hire.
Launched in San Francisco in 2010, Uber is now in more than 100 cities around the world, said Danny Nicolopoulos, Uber community manager. It launched in Napa Valley last month and in Marin County in January.
With Monday’s expansion along the Highway 101 corridor and east to Sonoma, the service is now available throughout Northern California from Carmel to Santa Rosa, he said.
“I think Sonoma County is going to be a huge market for us,” he said. “It seemed like a good fit for what we were doing.”
A Snoopy mascot rode in a topless Jeep Wrangler through Santa Rosa for Monday’s launch. Local celebrities are typically the first passengers of the service when Uber expands into a new area, Nicolopoulos said. Actor Edward Norton was “passenger zero” when the service launched in Los Angeles, he said.
The company is exploring expanding north of Santa Rosa, said Spencer Rinkus, a company spokesman.
“Our plan is to go farther into Wine Country,” he said. “It has been cool to watch our tremendous growth in the North Bay.”
The mobile application allows passengers to contact drivers who operate similarly to taxi drivers. Payment is made through a smartphone.
Drivers operate as independent contractors and are vetted through Uber. They must have clean driving records and insurance.
Uber could offer tourists another way to get around Sonoma County, especially if they have been drinking, said Brad Calkins executive director of the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“It will give visitors another great option without having to get in their cars,” he said. “Since wine and beer are so popular, people like to go out without having to drive.”
The basic UberX service in the Bay Area comes with a $3 base fare plus 30 cents per minute and $1.50 per mile. For comparison, a San Francisco taxi charges a $3.50 base fare plus 55 cents per minute and $2.75 per mile.
First-time riders will receive $20 off their first ride in Sonoma County, Rinkus said.
Uber and other ridesharing services like Lyft and SideCar have faced opposition from taxi and limousine drivers who say the companies operate unlicensed cab services and undercut their business.
In September, the California Public Utilities Commission stepped in to regulate the ridesharing industry, creating a new category of service called Transportation Network Companies.
Santa Rosa taxi companies did not welcome the news that Uber was coming to town.
“Uber is bad,” said Temsgan Solomon, owner of Central Cab of Santa Rosa. “Now anyone can become a taxi. This will kill our business.”