Ridesharing service Uber launches in Sonoma County (w/video)

  • Danny Nicolopoulos a Community Manager with Uber, a ride sharing program, takes Peanuts character Snoopy for the first ride at the Charles Charles M. Schulz Museum during a public relations event promoting that Uber is now operating in Sonoma County, Monday May 12, 2014.

The San Francisco-based ridesharing service Uber expanded into Sonoma County on Monday, extending to local passengers the mobile application 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.

About 20 drivers will serve Sonoma County from the start, 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.

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