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Uber now lets you book a ride for $50 an hour

The ride-hailing company is looking for ways to "move forward in this 'new normal.'"

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As rides have plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, Uber is looking for new ways to turn a profit.

Angela Lang/CNET

Uber is now letting passengers use its service on an hourly basis. The ride-hailing company announced Friday a new feature called "hourly booking" that lets people schedule a trip for $50 per hour for up to seven hours at a time.

Typically, people hail an Uber when they need to get from one place to another. But Uber says with hourly booking, customers can do several errands or take an excursion. There are some caveats, like no rides to and from airports and no trips outside of a city service area.

"We're launching Hourly to provide riders a more convenient way to get things done," Niraj Patel, Uber's director of rider operations, said in a statement. "And to provide an additional earnings opportunity for drivers as we move forward in this 'new normal.'"

Uber has seen its rides fall drastically since the novel coronavirus pandemic struck at the beginning of March. In a call with investors earlier this month, the company said by mid-April that ride volume was down by as much as 80%. To cope with this Uber has been looking at new ways to turn a profit and save money. It's been focusing on its Uber Eats delivery service, got rid of its scooter and bike rental business, and has laid off thousands of employees.  

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In certain cities, Uber passengers will now see an "hourly" option.

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Uber's hourly booking service has already been available in several international cities in Australia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, but this is the first time it's being offered in North America.

With the new offering, passengers can book Uber rides like normal and enter their first stop as the destination. They then have the choice to add multiple stops and select "hourly" from the ride menu. Those stops can be changed if necessary. Uber will show passengers the price difference between hourly and other ride options.

If the trip takes less time than the rider booked, they'll still have to pay for the hours they selected. And there is an hourly mileage limit, for example some cities have 40-mile limits per hour. If trips run longer than what the passenger booked, they'll be charged at a per minute rate. Similarly, if they go further than the mileage limit, riders will be charged a per mile rate.

Initially, Uber's hourly booking will be available in 12 US cities as of June 2, including Atlanta, Chicago, Washington DC, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Tacoma and Seattle. The company plans to expand to other US cities in coming weeks.