For Boston residents who use the UberX ride-sharing service to get around on the cheap, options have just expanded — literally.
Uber, the company that allows commuters to book a ride using their mobile phone, is starting a new service this week in Boston and Chicago that allows customers to request extra-large vehicles with the capacity to fit up to seven passengers.
It’s called UberXL, and it provides a middle ground for people willing to pay a higher fee for a bigger car, but still opt for an option more affordable than the swanky black sport utility vehicles that come with a ride from UberSUV.
“There was a natural fit in the market for a lower-cost option that fits up to six passengers,” said Meghan Joyce, general manager of Uber Boston.
Uber, a startup founded in 2009, allows people to request a ride with a few taps on their smart phones, circumventing the need to hail a cab. It’s been controversial since its inception, as detractors argue it disadvantages taxi drivers and does not include enough safeguards and insurance standards.
Originally, the service allowed customers to request a registered livery vehicle, such as a Lincoln Town Car; more recently, the company has offered a more affordable option called UberX, which connects users with drivers willing to offer rides in their own personal vehicles.
Now, UberXL will help commuters request a driver whose personal car is a minivan or SUV. Joyce said she anticipates it will be useful for families headed to the airport with luggage, student groups in need of transportation for volunteer trips, or large groups of friends looking to save money by squashing into a larger vehicle rather than hailing two cabs.
Boston and Chicago are the first two cities to experiment with the new service. The larger vehicles will cost about 40 percent more than vehicles reserved through UberX.
There are already several thousand Uber drivers registered in the Boston area; Joyce said she expects the debut of the UberXL service to attract more drivers to sign on with the program, especially people who own larger vehicles that require more fuel and would not have been cost-effective for regular UberX rides.
Joyce imagined a burgeoning demographic of new drivers: Parents with large, family-toting minivans or SUVs who may not have full-time jobs.
A natural fit, perhaps, for soccer moms and hockey dads already accustomed to spending much of their days serving as chauffeurs.
“There’s an increasing number of parents who have minivans and, during the daytime hours, are driving kids to and from school, to sports, dance rehearsal,” Joyce said. “They have found that using Uber software allows them to have a really interesting income opportunity to help supplement their finances.”Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.