It what was once thought to be an unthinkable joint agreement, Uber is partnering with Mears Transportation, one of the largest transportation companies in the Southeast, in an arrangement in which travelers arriving at Orlando International Airport can use an Uber app—UberBlack—to hail a ride in either a Mears vehicle or an Uber car.
As reported in an extensive and thorough article in the Orlando Sentinel, the UberBlack luxury service—it already operates in other markets in the U.S. and was once available at the Orlando airport—will have the distinction in Central Florida of also using a fleet comprised primarily of Mears’ inventory of more than 200 luxury SUVs and sedans.
Trips will cost the same for riders, whether a passenger uses a Mears car or an Uber vehicle. The booking fee for the more premium experience is $2.70, with a base fare of $7, plus $2 per mile and 71 cents per minute. Each trip has a $15 minimum.
Uber side drivers will earn on a per-mile, per-minute basis, while Mears drivers keep all the revenue collected and Uber will collect its $2.70 fee from each trip. The Mears app, its reservation system and taxi stands will continue to exist, but riders will now have another method of hailing a Mears driver.
How it Happened: As has been the case in other major destinations in the U.S., ground transportation companies and taxis vigorously opposed permitting Uber (or Lyft) drivers from picking up passengers at the Orlando International Airport. Mears was one of the primary combatants in the effort as the battle went from Orlando to the Florida state legislature.
Finally, last year, Florida’s legislature passed a ride-sharing bill passed last year that Uber could enter into an agreement with Orlando International Airport to pick up passengers, in addition to dropping them off. This made the competition even more intense for Mears, which owns most of the taxis that pick up passengers at Orlando’s airport.
Then, earlier this year, out of nowhere according to the Sentinel account, Trey White, executive chairman of Mears sent Uber a missive that began, “I have an outside-of-the-box idea I’d like you to consider … ”
Recall that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick once said, “We’re in a political campaign, and the candidate is Uber and the opponent is an [expletive] named Taxi.”
But changes occurred at both companies made the unthinkable thinkable. Last March, the private equity firm Palm Beach Capital acquired Mears and was looking at incorporating ride-sharing services. At Uber, Kalanick was forced out as CEO following revelations of a toxic workplace culture that included sexual harassment. Former Expedia Group CEO Dara Khosrowshahi took over as CEO last year aiming to take the company in a new direction.
“I’m not sure we would have responded this way even a year ago,” to the Mears offer, said Colin Tooze, director of public affairs at Uber, told the Sentinel. “And that’s because we’ve changed. We are focused on building the world’s first, true multi-modal platform and as we do that, building a sustainable and long-term business in the communities that we operate [is key.] … What might seem at first blush as an odd pairing actually makes a ton of sense to us.”