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Uber Announces Cross-Border Rides From San Diego To Tijuana

But recruiting drivers could be a challenge

Photo by Associated Press

A driver displays Lyft and Uber stickers on his front windshield as he drops off a passenger in downtown Los Angeles, Jan. 12, 2016.

Aired 3/18/16 on KPBS News.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer joined Uber representatives to tout the company's new cross-border service. But some drivers tell KPBS they won't take riders into Tijuana.

Cars wait to enter the U.S. from Mexico at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego on Aug. 1, 2011.
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Above: Cars wait to enter the U.S. from Mexico at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego on Aug. 1, 2011.

Cost of cross-border Uber ride

North Park to Zona Centro: $90

Downtown San Diego to Tijuana International Airport: $100

Pacific Beach to Rosarito: $160

Travelers heading from San Diego to Tijuana now have a new transportation option. Starting Friday, they can use their smartphone to hail a ride across the border.

The app-based ridesharing company Uber announced a new service called Uber Passport on Thursday, choosing the San Diego region as the staging grounds for its first cross-border service.

"This is the first time an Uber trip will cross international borders," said Uber’s head of global operations Ryan Graves, a San Diego native and the company's first CEO.

Users will not be able to hail rides back into the United States from Tijuana. They'll pay a $20 border crossing fee for southbound trips and will have to choose Uber's black car service instead of the cheaper UberX option.

The company estimates trips from downtown San Diego to Tijuana's airport will cost about $100. Uber said it will provide insurance for cross-border rides and all drivers will be commercially licensed.

If Uber can provide quick and convenient rides into Tijuana, it could appeal to travelers who don't want to walk across the border or drive their own car into Mexico. But convincing drivers to make the complicated and time-consuming trip could be challenging.

At a Thursday event, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer joined Uber representatives to tout the company's new service. He said, "San Diego is using technology to bring nations even closer together."

Uber chose a high-traffic region for its first foray into cross-border service. The border at San Ysidro is the busiest land crossing in the Western hemisphere, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Paola Avila with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce said 70,000 workers cross the border each day. She said Uber Passport will be "part of connecting our business communities."

But recruiting drivers to make the trip into Tijuana could be difficult for Uber. When KPBS asked Uber drivers if they'd be willing to ferry riders across the border, their answer was a resounding no.

Drivers said they would feel unsafe entering Tijuana, where Uber has encountered strong resistance from the city's existing taxi cab industry.

"Safety in Tijuana is definitely an issue," said one Uber driver, citing footage of taxi drivers in Tijuana surrounding and confronting an Uber driver. "Why would I jeopardize my own safety?"

Safety concerns were echoed by another driver who uses a competing app. "There's too much risk," the driver said. "I wouldn't put my life on the line for a couple bucks."

Uber said its app includes features that keep drivers safe. The company hasn't developed any new safety features for cross-border rides.

Lengthy border wait times were another common concern among drivers.

One driver said Uber emailed him recently to gauge his interest in providing cross-border rides, but he ignored the message. He felt the long wait to re-enter the U.S. would eat into his earnings, which are already down following Uber's recent 30 percent rate cuts in San Diego.

"Financially, that would be suicide for drivers," he said. "I'd be surprised if anyone wanted to do that."

Drivers also worried about their responsibility for riders carrying illegal substances across the border. They said the cost of international data plans could also be a deterrent. KPBS is not naming the drivers to protect their ability to earn an income through ridesharing.

Uber hopes to convince drivers with SENTRI passes, or other documents for expedited border crossing, to make the trips into Tijuana. The company said boosted fares will be enough to incentivize drivers.

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