South Bend area commuters now have a new transportation option. Drive share company Uber has entered the market just in time for the start of Notre Dame’s football season. The service connects smartphone users with local private drivers for a fee. Essentially, Uber is an unlicensed taxi service.
The service works like this: a user logs in to the app on their iOS or Android device. You enter your pickup location. Once an Uber driver accepts your request, they will pick you up and the driver will be given the destination just like a taxi, except Uber drivers are private vehicle owners in the local area contracted through the company.
Uber’s Lauren Altman spoke to South Bend Voice about the new service.
“We couldn’t be more excited to be providing access to alternative transportation options in South Bend,” Altman said.
The same enthusiasm cannot be said for city government, which offered a rather cold reception to the company.
“The City promotes innovation, but we also do not want inequalities in our transportation industry,” says Kara Kelly, a city spokesperson. “As it stands, this alternative is not considered the same as public vehicles for hire. We’re looking into if we need to classify, and potentially regulate, ridesharing.”
Regulatory authorities have targeted Uber throughout the US and in other countries where it operates. Several cities have filed cease-and-desist orders against the company, citing ordinances against operating an unlicensed taxi cab. Washington DC went so far as impounding the cars of Uber drivers. Taxi companies have filed suit against the company in Chicago, alleging deceptive and unfair business practices. New York City temporarily shut the company’s operations down after allegations of price gouging during Hurricane Sandy. According to the Huffington Post, rates more than doubled.
Altman defended the company’s pricing structure, saying that:
“Uber was founded with the goal of ensuring a reliable ride, wherever and whenever – and during times of peak demand, when there are not enough drivers on the system, fares increase so as to incentivize more drivers to come onto the platform. Surge pricing helps bring demand and supply into line, when necessary, by incentivizing more drivers to come onto the platform. Once demand falls or supply increases sufficiently, prices quickly go back to normal. The fact that surge pricing is in place is communicated repeatedly to a user – and requires confirmation – before the user can request the trip.”
Another concern is one of safety. Complaints about harassment and rape have surfaced in reputable sources. While some Uber drivers have been cleared of any wrongdoing, others have been fired for their actions. However, as ride share companies would point out, that is not to say that taxi drivers are incapable of doing the same things.
“Safety is our number one priority at Uber,” Altman says. “Each driver requesting access to the Uber platform must undergo a rigorous background check and Uber has put industry-leading insurance policies in place to cover every ridesharing trip on the Uber platform throughout the U.S.”
The Uber users that we spoke with are pleased with the service compared to taxi companies.
“The prices were much better. And the service much better,” Emmanuel Olivier of Chicago told us. “Uber drivers have more of an incentive to do a high quality job. From what I’m told, they get a bonus for getting a certain amount of stars.”
Just like with many services these days, Uber has its users rate their driver’s performance. Users can leave both a text review and a star rating, similar to what you would see on auction site eBay.
Another Uber user told us: “It’s my go-to in Chicago. Excited to see it in South Bend.”
It’s too early to say whether Uber will be successful in this smaller market where taxis are not heavily used. Likewise, we still do not know if it will face obstacles, such as lawsuits from taxi companies or government restrictions.
One thing that is definitely clear: the company chose a good time of the year to launch in South Bend. College football season routinely brings tens of thousands to the city as over 80,000 fans pack Notre Dame Stadium. The service will be popular for those that trek to South Bend via plane and train. The next game is Saturday, September 6 against Michigan.