By Ethan Brogan
INDIANA – On Aug. 4, San Francisco-based internet taxi service Uber arrived in Indiana County. Drivers and riders alike have hailed the company’s new — if non-descript — cabs.
For Uber drivers, the service has become a lucrative source of supplemental income.
Robert G. Bonnet, 64, of Marion Center, signed up to drive for Uber as soon as he heard it was available in Indiana. Bonnet recounted a time in Pittsburgh when he called a traditional taxi company the night before catching a morning flight out of the steel city’s international airport.
Even after the appointed pickup time passed, the dispatcher repeatedly promised a driver would arrive, Bonnet recounted. The hack never arrived. Bonnet called a friend and narrowly made his flight.
When Uber arrived in Indiana in early August, Bonnet promptly signed up to drive.
“Within a minute, I had my first fare,” Bonnet said in a Jan. 12 interview in a downtown Indiana restaurant.
On Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 10:45 p.m., Uber software reported five drivers available in Indiana.
Seven times Bonnet has driven his 2014 Volvo sedan for Uber, he said. He averaged $9 an hour.
Bonnet submitted his driver’s license, vehicle-ownership documents and insurance information before Uber gave him a green light.
Any licensed driver with a four-door sedan manufactured after 2001 and a current state-inspection sticker can drive for Uber.
The company allows users to request a ride using its software and users’ hardware — their mobile phones. Prospective passengers digitally map their intended routes, pay through their phones and receive alerts when their Uber rides arrive.
Uber uses GPS tracking to find drivers closest to fares and sends the addresses to the drivers, who can accept or decline the calls. The company tracks driver information, pricing and taxes to comply with state regulations on for-hire taxis and limousines.
Protests from traditional taxi companies have mounted worldwide.
“I don’t know how they can compete,” Bonnet said.
RIDERS RAVE about Uber, especially the speedy response.
“I have never waited for than three minutes,” said Tore Økland, 25, a senior finance and legal studies major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, in a Jan. 16 Skype interview.
Økland, an international student from Norway, said he uses Uber several times a week to go to classes or to get groceries.
“It is much more accessible than waiting for a bus,” Økland said. “There is always a driver ready to pick you up.”
TURBO TAXI, the only for-hire service listed in an Indiana, Pa., business directory, reported no impact on its business.
“I haven’t really noticed anything, honestly,” Samantha A. McCleary, 40, Turbo’s head of transportation, said in a Jan. 19 phone interview.
Turbo keeps one driver out during business hours and a second driver on call, McCleary said. However, university students on winter break means lower demand.
“It gets slower when the kids go home,” said McCleary.
McCleary later contacted The HawkEye to ask that her remarks not be reported.
MEANWHILE, competitor online services such as Lyft are entering the online-transportation market. “Uberification” of the industry has been challenged by government regulators and traditional taxi services, who say the industry’s unlicensed drivers are illegal and unsafe.
But since its inception in 2009, Uber CEO and cofounder Travis Kalnick has seen his net worth increase to $6.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
Økland offered an explanation of why.
“It is the best way to get around, if you don’t have a car, “said Økland.
Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported that Bonnet had called Uber to catch his flight in Pittsburgh.
Ethan C. Brogan, a senior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Pittsburgh.
Robert G. Bonnet is a contributor to The HawkEye.