Uber Now Lets Businesses Book Rides for Their Customers

July 28, 2016, 7:56 PM UTC
Taxi Drivers Protest Possible Uber Expansion In NYC
Photograph by Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Transportation has long been a helpful extra service that businesses like hotels have used to enhance their customer experiences, and Uber wants a piece of that business.

On Thursday, the ride-hailing company unveiled a new online app, called UberCentral, which enables businesses to book and pay for rides for their respective customers. UberCentral’s dashboard lets them manage multiple rides from a single account at the same time, and can send links to a live map with details via SMS message if the customer doesn’t have a smartphone. Businesses have the option to book rides from several of Uber’s options, including UberX and UberBlack.

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If this sounds familiar, there’s a reason. A few months ago, a New York City-based startup named Teleport began offering a near identical service using Uber’s freely available application program interface (API), a software tool that permits outside developers to connect their apps to Uber so users can summon rides.

At the time, Uber told Fortune that its API program for outside developers isn’t meant as a ploy to steal their ideas, though Uber acknowledged that sometimes it does build similar tools if they can make it easier for developers. Trip Experiences, for example, which let companies serve up content like news digests, short videos, or restaurant reviews to riders during their trips, was inspired by such apps cobbled together by developers.

Uber told Fortune that it’s been working on UberCentral since the end of last year. It also has no plans to cut off Teleport’s access to its API, which would be counter to its philosophy when it comes to working with developers, said the company.

Uber has long been focused on providing its corporate customers with special tools and products tailored to their needs, including the debut of Uber for Business in 2014. Since then, Uber has been continuously adding new features and tools, such as the ability to connect to expense management software providers.

For its part, Teleport says that it’s still generating thousands of Uber ride requests, and it’s been working on new features to remain competitive.

Lyft also has a similar service for business customers, released last September, called Concierge. It already has a few customers, including the National Medtrans Network in NYC, though companies have to reach out to Lyft to get set up with it, a spokesman told Fortune.

UberCentral is now available in the U.S. and Canada. Companies already using the service include department store Bloomingdale’s, Hotel Angeleno in Los Angeles, and fashion brand Hugo Boss, which shuttles customers to its stores for appointments.

The story has been updated with additional details about Uber’s development of the service and details about a similar service offered by rival Lyft.

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