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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Uber to Roll Out Ride Sharing in California

Californians who don’t want to drive will soon have more ways to hire a ride. Uber, a start-up company that offers a smartphone app for summoning cars, is expanding its service to support ride sharing so ordinary citizens can drive people around in exchange for money.

Uber and the California Public Utilities Commission said on Thursday that they had reached an agreement that would allow Uber to operate its hire-a-car service as well as expand into ride sharing.

Previously, Uber faced a $20,000 fine from the commission, which said the company was operating without a license. Now the parties have agreed that Uber’s business can stay on the road as long as it adheres to basic safety requirements. The commission said it had suspended its fine and cease and desist order against Uber.

In California, Uber operates in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento and some smaller ciies around those areas.

Uber’s business started out in 2011 as an app for summoning luxury town cars for a price higher than that of a cab. Later, in some cities, it began the cheaper Uber X, which allowed customers to get rides from professional car services that used hybrid vehicles.

In an interview on Thursday, Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, said it was possible that the company would incorporate its ride sharing service into Uber X. He said to expect ride sharing to become available in California in the coming weeks.

The news comes a day after the commission said it had reached a similar agreement with Zimride, a San Francisco start-up that offers a ride sharing app called Lyft. Its $20,000 fine was also suspended.

“When Uber doe! s it, it’s going to go mainstream,” Mr. Kalanick said about ride sharing. “It’s the continuation of what Uber started. We’re making it easy to get around cities.”

The commission said in December that it would evaluate Uber and similar services to ensure public safety while encouraging innovation in transportation. It said this week that Uber could continue to operate if it adhered to basic safety requirements for drivers, like proof of insurance and national criminal background checks. The agreement can be terminated if Uber fails to comply, the commission said.