I Was Uber-Boat Passenger Zero

The Drive bags an exclusive water crossing in Miami with the taxi-industry disruptor.

byBrett Berk|
I Was Uber-Boat Passenger Zero

Uber has pulled off another grand marketing stunt, and it might just be their best idea since the brand decided to become a verb. The company has decided to add floating to its ever-expanding phone-enabled menu.

Uber Boat Miami was created, in the words of Kasra Moshkani, general manager of Uber of South Florida, to address the “pain points” felt by their customers during the snarling bacchanalian logjam known as Art Basel Miami Beach, which just so happens to be transforming the city into an exhaust flume this weekend.

The connective tissue between Miami and Miami Beach is a series of causeways and bridges, with no viable public-transportation infrastructure workarounds. Consequently, hours of valuable sightseeing, high-heel teetering and champagne-chugging time are squandered during Art Basel, as attendees wriggle between the Beach and the Mainland. Since the city is surrounded (and slowly being subsumed) by myriad waterways, boats seemed like a floaty panacea. Also, Uber likes to surprise its users with fun shit. “We want to make it feel like magic,” Moshkani says.

Brett Berk/TheDrive.com

The new, temporary feature is being launched Dec. 3, and is the product of a three-way partnership. Uber provided the app and algorithms and electronic infrastructure. The real estate developers Related Group provided the waterfront landing pad at its immense Paraiso luxury complex, under construction in Edgewater—near the fashionable Wynwood and Design District neighborhoods. And Stella Artois will provide a cheery amber inducement to seasickness at either end of the route.

The boats will, like Uber’s cars, be operated by various independent owners—fleets, taxi services, charters. “It’s a great way to take advantage of all these boats we have here,” says Carlos Rosso, president of Related. “And it’s a great way to take advantage of the water. It makes this part of Miami like a little Venice.”

Brett Berk/TheDrive.com

The service is a trial run to explore possibilities. And so is the pricing. Tap on Uber Boat this weekend if you’re in the Boat Zone on the Beach or the Mainland, and enter your distant destination, and a car will pick up you and five friends and take you to the dock. Then one of six boats will cross Biscayne Bay, and a car on the other end will shuttle you to your final destination. All for $35—total, not per rider, including beer. Bienvenido a Miami, baby.

Uber has a history of rolling out experiments like this into actual app features. Uber Eats, which offers a limited menu of lunch or dinner entrees available for bicycle or messenger delivery within five minutes of an order, started this way. As did Uber Family, which provides cars suitable for children and adults, and includes vehicles equipped with kiddie seats.

Brett Berk/TheDrive.com

We were over near Wynwood and had to get back to our hotel on South Beach on Wednesday afternoon, the day before the official launch, so we decided it might be worthwhile to be passenger zero on the first ever Uber Boat Miami. The Venetian Bridge, the most direct paved artery, is closed for a $12.4 million upgrade. And the Tuttle Causeway was an inter-coastal parking lot. “Magic” might be an overstatement, but the 20-minute ride across the water in a luxury cabin cruiser, even in a tropical downpour, was definitely a compelling mobility solution, and a lovely way to get a clearer sense of the city’s geography.

“It’s a lot nicer to take a boat ride than a car ride,” Rosso said on his company’s dock before we boarded the boat. He pointed at the serene and empty waterway. “Do you see any traffic on Biscayne Bay? Now, look at Biscayne Boulevard.”