Uber Boston: $9M of Fares in 15 Months, Barely Denting Cab Market

Smartphone car-booking startup Uber has made a big splash since its debut in Boston, inciting political battles and court fights with competitors seeking to protect their turf.

But according to revenue figures disclosed as part of a lawsuit, the well-funded startup still looks like a pipsqueak in the city’s lucrative car-for-hire market.

Between its October 2011 debut in Boston and January 2013, Uber collected about $9 million in “gross fares” from rides provided by more than 500 drivers, a judge’s ruling revealed Thursday. That breaks down to $600,000 of revenue per month on average, before paying drivers their considerable cut.

As a percentage of the city’s market for cab rides, that’s peanuts. In its investigation of industry corruption, The Boston Globe recently estimated that the Boston-area taxi industry generated $250 million in fares last year, or almost $21 million per month on average.

The gap between those figures illustrates just how difficult it can be to get consumers and service providers to adopt new ways of doing business. While Uber is a household name in startup and tech circles, there are apparently a lot of average Joes to still win over.

Uber started out in its hometown of San Francisco, offering consumers a quick, simple way to hire spendier black-car services on demand with a few taps of its smartphone app. The startup, which has raised some $50 million in venture investment, has since expanded to new cities and new types of rides as well.

Today, the company books rides in sedans, regular taxis, and personal vehicles driven by everyday people who want to make some cash by charging for rides (so-called “ridesharing”).

Uber’s move into ridesharing, which came this spring, was somewhat surprising—Uber had pointedly avoided that market even as other startups, such as Lyft and Sidecar, tried to build businesses around amateur drivers.

But with 15 months of pretty well-publicized efforts in Boston only making a small dent in the market, it makes sense that Uber would want to seek growth by jumping into the ridesharing market, too.

It looks like these revenue figures actually weren’t supposed to see the light of day. Uber originally filed its sales information with the court confidentially, to protect the private company’s business data.

But some of the previously sealed information was included in a ruling Thursday by federal Judge Denise Casper. Casper used the fare totals to calculate that potential damages in the trial were too low to justify a federal case, which sends the lawsuit back to state courts.

The lawsuit in question accuses Uber company of skimming cabbies’ tips. David Lavitman, a Boston-area driver, sued the startup in December. Uber denies the allegations.

It’s not possible from reading the legal document to say how much Uber is collecting from the $9 million in gross fares, versus how much is going to its drivers. The court documents don’t break down how many of the fares were from taxi rides versus sedans—Uber takes 20 percent of the fare for black-car rides, and 10 percent of the base fare plus a $1 fee for cabs.

Uber declined to comment on the court ruling, saying it doesn’t discuss ongoing litigation.

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