Starting Friday, Uber will lend helping hands - or cars, rather - to San Diego in an effort to boost public transit, and route around transportation and parking obstacles during the city's most jam-packed tourism month of the year.
The smartphone app-based ride service has partnered with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and for a 17-day stretch will give locals and visitors alike $5 off UberPool trips that begin or end near one of 20 designated MTS transit centers in the county.
Pool is Uber's cheapest option; it matches passengers headed in the same direction and offers them a shared ride for a reduced fare. The $5 discount, then, is designed to amount to a free ride for people traveling just a few miles to their destination.
The promotion, which runs through July 24, is limited to one freebie per rider, and riders will need to enter a promo code to redeem the deal. Uber plans to notify its users through in-app messages, while MTS will display signage at its stations and inside vehicles. The agency has also established special Uber drop-off zones at participating stations.
The Uber and MTS team-up deliberately overlaps with some of the city's largest summer attractions, including All-Star Game activities (July 7-12), the Pride Parade (July 15-17) and Comic-Con (July 21-24). The promotional period also covers a portion of the Del Mar racing season, which kicks off with opening day on July 15. Collectively, the events are expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people.
"July is an exciting month for San Diegans," said Brian Hughes, general manager of Uber in San Diego. "It's a great opportunity for us to bring in a first- and last-mile transportation solution exactly when it's needed most."
Ultimately, both parties hope to grow ridership while simultaneously decreasing congestion on roads. The rationale is that more people will take the trolley or bus, if they know they can get a free Uber ride for the first or last leg of their trip.
Participating MTS Stations
Trolley Transit Centers: Iris Ave., H Street, 8th Street, Barrio Logan, Euclid, Lemon Grove, Santee, El Cajon, Grossmont Center, 70th Street, SDSU, Mission San Diego, Mission Valley Center, Fashion Valley and Old Town.
Rapid Transit Stations: Escondido , Rancho Bernardo, Sabre Springs, Miramar College and City Heights Transit Plaza.
"The first-mile, last-mile thing ... is a big barrier to riding transit," said Rob Schupp, director of marketing and communication at MTS. People, he said, generally like the idea of public transit but may not use it because the logistics of getting to and from stations are too complicated.
One-third of the county's 60 MTS stations are eligible for the UberPool promotion. That includes 15 trolley transit centers and five Rapid transit stations, from Escondido to El Cajon.
"I wanted it to be geographically dispersed so no one community got to take advantage of this over another," Schupp said.
Uber, which is eating the cost of comped trips, has partnered with several transit agencies around the nation, in part to lessen people's dependence on personal vehicles. In May, the company sponsored a similar, three-day subsidized Pool initiative in Los Angeles in partnership with Metro, the county's transportation authority, to celebrate the extension of the Los Angeles Metro Line.
The city-based goodwill initiatives appear to be making friends of agencies that might otherwise be threatened by Uber.
"The long-term transit strategy for ride-share and bike-share is to make them seamless," Schupp said. "Uber and MTS, on a certain level, compete for rides, but we all realize there are more ways we can cooperate then to strictly compete."