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December 1, 2020
News Technology

Uber launches car rentals in the UK for maximum social distancing

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Uber announce today that it will soon allow users in the UK to rent cars via its app in a partnership with car rental company CarTrawler. Users will be able to select the new “Uber Rent” option from within the app and then browse available cars for their chosen date and location. Rental cars can then be picked up from the “hundreds” of car hire company pickup locations. The UK launch follows trials in France and Australia.

The process works a little differently from Uber’s bike or scooter rentals. Although Uber says you’re technically able to make your booking at the same time as you pick up the vehicle (as you would when renting one of its Jump bikes in the UK), it encourages you to make car reservations at least 24 hours in advance. Rentals can be cancelled up to 48 hours ahead of collection and Uber is promising discounts on rentals of up to 25 percent.

This isn’t the first time Uber has offered car rentals. Back in 2018, it announced a similar scheme in partnership with Getaround in the US, but discontinued the consumer-focused part of the program later that year in favor of focusing on offering rental cars solely for its drivers. However, the COVID-19 pandemic could give the idea a new lease of life. Although the company has introduced a number of health and safety precautions for its drivers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, sitting in an enclosed space with a stranger can still feel risky and the alternative, public transport, comes with its own social distancing issues. Uber says that rental cars will be thoroughly cleaned between users.

Car rentals are just the latest new product offering that Uber is exploring after being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month the company reported that it had lost $1.8 billion in the quarter, and its ride-hailing business was down 80 percent compared to the previous year. The downturn has forced the company to lay off thousands of employees, and it’s warned that it may have to shut down its operations in California after a court ruled that its drivers should be classified as employees.

In response, Uber is exploring more areas for growth. It’s acquired meal delivery service Postmates, launched an on-demand grocery delivery service in Latin America and Canada, and even partnered with a commuter riverboat service in London on “Uber Boat.”

Although Uber says the service is launching today, the car rental functionality doesn’t appear to be live in the iOS or Android apps just yet. We’ve followed up with Uber for more details and will update this story if we hear back.

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