A vast majority of Americans — 96 percent, according to Pew Research — own a cell phone, but only 81 percent own a smartphone. For that minority, or for those who find a smartphone difficult to navigate, Uber is testing out a new way to hail a car: a 1-800 number.
This experiment may be new for Uber, but it’s probably pretty familiar to anyone who remembers calling a car service in the pre-Uber days. The number is only available to people who live in Arizona for now. Uber says that Arizonans without access to the app can call 1-833-USE-UBER to request a ride from a live team member. That customer service rep will provide an upfront price using the same pricing algorithm that powers the app.
In order to use this feature, you’ll need an SMS or text-based mobile phone to receive important messages about your ETA, driver’s license plate details, and driver’s name. You’ll continue to receive messages before and during the trip, and once it concludes, you’ll receive a trip receipt.
Uber says this was built with older people in mind, though the company hopes anyone “preferring conversational support” will benefit. “We built 1-833-USE-UBER to expand access for anyone that prefers a little extra assistance when they want to use our services. There’s always more to be done, but this feature brings the convenience of live support to our matching technology so everyday customers get the ride they want,” said Danielle Sheridan, head of Uber US city operations, in a statement.
Customers can request ride options in Arizona, including UberX, Uber Comfort, Uber Black, Black SUV, as well as Uber Assist and WAV, where available. There is no extra charge for using this service, though carrier message and data rates may apply.
To be sure, this new phone number isn’t intended for general audiences. Uber would still prefer you to use the app and not swamp its new phone line with requests. In other words, it’s not meant for customer service requests or lost-and-found-style inquiries.
This isn’t the first time Uber has allowed for ways to get in contact outside the app. It was revealed in 2016 that Uber maintained an emergency phone number for passengers and drivers to get in touch with an employee. The number was only intended for non-911-related emergencies. A few years later, the company began experimenting with voice over internet protocol, or VoIP. Much like Skype or FaceTime audio, the VoIP feature used an internet connection rather than cellular phone service to make calls.