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Uber trials fixed-price hourly rentals for visits to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker

Because if you have to go out in a plague, who wants multiple rides?

Uber has started a pilot of pre-paid hourly rentals.

The service is called “Hourly Driver” and is currently being offered in half a dozen large Australian cities.

Uber suggests the service to customers that want to “get all their essential travel done in one go.”

“From a trip from the office, to the chemist, to the supermarket to home, this new option is designed to give riders more peace of mind by having fewer interactions with people, and a handy car to help transport things as they buy them,” says the company’s canned statement .

Uber is actively discouraging clients from using its service because stay-at-home orders mean staying at home! Hourly Driver is Uber’s attempt to offer a plague-times-friendly service for essential travel .

At AU$59 an hour (US$38, £30) it’s decently-priced: The Register used Google Maps to plot a one-hour car journey across Sydney and fed the start and end points into an Uber fare estimator for a predicted charge of $69-$89. An Uber driver will of course use less fuel while you shop than they would driving for a whole hour, which may account for the probably-lower fee. Yet they'll be paid the same as for any regular UberX trip.

Some perspective: Australian unemployment payments currently run at $1,110 a fortnight - and that's a temporary doubling of the payment. Your correspondent struggles to get in and out of a supermarket and chemist in under an hour so a weekly shopping run using Hourly Driver could eat up a big chunk of income for many folks. Weekly delivery fees from a chemist and supermarket would likely be less than $59 and volunteer organisations are also helping with such matters.

The Register has asked Uber if it intends to deploy the service elsewhere, either as a plague-only option or during more normal times, but was told the ride-sharing firm's Australian outpost could not offer cogent comment on international matters. ®

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