After disrupting the taxi industry and dipping its toe in logistics like food and package delivery, Uber is now eyeing another lucrative business to co-opt: party buses. Last week, the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company launched UberEvents, a new feature that allows party hosts to buy Uber rides for their guests in bulk. So rather than leaving a wedding or Christmas party in a garishly decorated shuttle bus, guests can take a pre-paid Uber ride at the expense of their host.
"From the grandest gatherings to the smallest soirees, there's a lot that goes into making sure your event is a hit — including ensuring your guests can get to and from easily," Uber said in a blog post Friday.
"A caravan of Uber cars will never compare to a limo bus experience."
Hosts interested in using UberEvents create their event online at uber.com/events to receive guest passes via email that they can then distribute to their invitees. Uber is mum on whether there will be any discounts associated with bulk purchases through its events feature, which could help defray what is likely to be a very expensive purchase for party hosts.
There are some limitations. Guests have to be picked up and dropped off a quarter of a mile from the event. And only guests with Uber accounts are eligible for rides.
Companies that rent out party buses and shuttles are growing — from 6,000 to 9,000 businesses in California over the last five years alone — and it's unclear how successful Uber can be in this sector or whether it's an industry they are even hoping to disrupt. The efficiency of a multi-passenger shuttle or bus will make it difficult for even Uber drivers with SUVs to compete. UberEvents may have some success catering to hosts of smaller gatherings rather than larger events like weddings or graduations.
That said, there are many headaches associated with the business that may make it easier for Uber, with its popular app and disregard for regulations, to disrupt. "Party buses come with a unique set of challenges foreign to operators who have been running sedan-only fleets and traditional stretches," a trade publication called Limo, Charter & Tour said last April. "The high-passenger capacity of limo buses puts them in the most expensive bracket for insurance. The costs of maintenance and repairs far exceed those of sedans and stretches."
The party bus industry is lucrative... and growing
Matt Berger, owner and operator of Cali Party Bus based in San Francisco, said he doubts Uber would be able to make any inroads in his industry. "We applaud Uber for raising awareness for safe group transportation," he said in an email to The Verge. "However, a caravan of Uber cars will never compare to a limo bus experience where everyone can be together in a fun and interactive luxury setting. We look forward to working with Uber to expand responsible group transportation options in California."
According to the American Bus Association, which represents dozens of shuttle and party bus companies, motorcoach travel and tourism generates as many as 1.4 million jobs across the United States, paying over $62 billion in wages and benefits. The industry is lightly regulated, and some high-profile crashes involving party buses and drunk passengers has turned a spotlight on the need for more oversight.