You may not have heard of Uber, a ride-sharing service that uses technology to turn private cars into an army of taxis.
Google (GOOG) has heard of it. The Internet giant led a funding round of $258 million in August, valuing San Francisco-based Uber at $3.5 billion.
Compared with Uber, Zipcar -- bought by Avis Budget Group (CAR) for $491 million last year at this time -- is so very 2012.
Uber makes an app that identifies cars for hire that are available near you and helps arrange a pick-up at a price determined by Uber's algorithms.
Unlike with Zipcar, where you rent a car for a short period of time, with Uber, you don't do the driving and the ride resembles a taxi ride, going from one specification destination to another.
On a calm day, this can be a bargain. On New Year's Eve, as Uber itself warned users, the price goes up. Way up. CEO Travis Kalanick suggested in a blog post that riders fight his "congestion pricing" by doubling-up between midnight and 3 a.m., and noted that estimated costs would appear on the app before cars showed up.
What Kalanick calls "congestion pricing," critics call "price gouging."
Uber says it raises prices at peak times to get more cars on the road and meet demand. Taxis don't do this. Instead, you will find that at peak demand times in Manhattan, taxis simply don't show up. If you have ever tried to get to LaGuardia Airport from TheStreet's Wall Street offices at around 5 p.m. on a weekday, you may have experienced this firsthand.