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Uber picks China's Chengdu to introduce new commuting feature

The Australian city of Canberra Wednesday said it would become the first capital in the world to regulate ride-sharing services such as Uber, even as the controversial apps face legal challenges elsewhere.

[SAN FRANCISCO] When Uber drivers head to work in Chengdu, China, on Wednesday, they'll see a new feature that will let them pick up commuters as they head into town, which happens to be the car-booking company's busiest market.

Called uberCOMMUTE, the new service will be tested in the metropolitan area of 14 million before it starts push it out globally, Uber Technologies said in a statement. Usually, a driver goes to fetch a passenger requesting a ride on the car- booking app. With uberCOMMUTE, drivers will be able to find people looking for a ride along their route into town.

The rollout marks the first time that a global product is being released outside the US and underscores Uber's commitment to China, the San Francisco-based company said. China is Uber's biggest opportunity - and challenge. There's competition from Didi Kuaidi, the country's largest car-sharing company. The government is also considering regulations that would force car-booking providers to use commercially registered cars and drivers, which could challenge their current business model of signing up owners of privately owned cars and matching them with riders.

At the same time, Uber and other ride-hailing companies are eager to show regulators that they're helping to cut down on traffic congestion, as they try to win favor and overcome opposition from the taxi industry.

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"Over time we hope to adapt uberCOMMUTE for other cities around the world so that more people can carpool, helping reduce costs for everyone while also cutting congestion," Uber said in a statement.

Lyft, Uber's US competitor, already offers a similar feature for commuters. UberCOMMUTE is still in the testing phase, Uber said.