Uber dials it back 20 years, bringing its ride service to feature phones

Kind of like taxis, the company can now connect you to a live operator who'll book your ride.

Uber's new call-in feature harkens back to the days of taxis.
Angela Lang/CNET

Uber no longer requires a smartphone to hail a ride. The company unveiled a new service it's piloting in Arizona that lets people book a ride using only a feature phone. Although it was originally designed for seniors, anyone can use the service.

The way it works is to dial 1-833-USE-UBER. The company will then connect the caller to a live operator, who will book the ride -- kind of like how taxis work.

"We built 1-833-USE-UBER to expand access for anyone that prefers a little extra assistance when they want to use our services," said Danielle Sheridan, Uber's head of US city operations. "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."

Uber said it built the feature based on feedback from older adults, who said the live conversations make booking rides much easier. Riders can arrange anything from Uber's economy rides to luxury cars to wheelchair accessible vehicles with the call-in feature. And there's no extra charge for using the service. While it was designed for people with only a feature phone, customers using a smartphone can also access the service.

The ride-hailing company has continually added new features to its platform over the past couple of years to gain more users. It now has bikes, scooters, access to public transportation, food delivery and more. Dara Khosrowshahi, the company's CEO, has said his goal for Uber is to be the "Amazon of transportation."

When using Uber's new call-in feature, the operator will give passengers a price quote that uses the same technology as Uber's app. The passenger will then receive SMS texts with information on ETA, driver's name and the car's license plate number. Once the trip ends, another text will be sent with a receipt.

Before rolling out the feature in Arizona, an Uber spokesman said the company tested it in several countries with limited access to high-end phones, including Mexico, Ukraine, India and Egypt. He said Uber plans to expand the service to more US states in coming months.

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