SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Business

February 12, 2014

New driving service spurs questions

A new driving service making waves across the country is entering the North Shore and about half of Cape Ann.

The company — called Uber — officially expanded into the North Shore at the end of January. UberBlack, the company’s higher-end limousine service, is now working on Cape Ann.

UberBlack uses a mobile phone application that hones in on your location. In a few taps on a smartphone, Uber sends a car to meet a fare based on the global positioning information, allowing a user to see what drivers are in the area, as well. The driver can choose to accept or deny the fare.

“The experience is seamless; it’s pretty awesome,” said Nick Mathews, Uber’s Boston community manager, who grew up in Topsfield.

While UberBlack leans toward high-end fares with luxury sedans, one of the company’s other divisions — uberX — allows drivers to use their own cars, covered by their own insurance and an umbrella insurance policy from Uber.

Uber says these drivers and their cars are inspected, and each ride is insured up to $1 million. But the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA) considers Uber a serious threat to public safety.

Mike Fogarty, chief executive officer of Tristar Services and president elect of the TLPA, referenced an incident when a 6-year-old girl was killed in a car accident by an Uber driver on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco. The ride-sharing company claimed that the driver was not employed by Uber at the time because he did not have a passenger.

Fogarty said that is one difference between Tristar and Uber; his company is responsible for its drivers whenever they are on the road, in a company car, not just when a passenger is on board.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened; it’s a wake-up call for vehicles that (practice) for-hiring service,” said Fogarty, whose Tristar limo company has an office in Beverly.

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