Uber, taxi companies help students get home

Uber v Taxis

By Caleb Morningstar, [email protected]

Uber v Taxis

Katy Klopfenstein

Intoxicated students stumbling home have more options in the car-hire industry this year with the arrival of Uber in Ames.

Uber, a driving service that has recently come to Ames, has become another option for transportation for students who need to get from point A to point B. Unlike Ames’ taxi services, an Uber driver is just a few taps away on one’s smartphone.

Uber makes use of an app that riders can download on their phones. After connecting one’s credit card to the app they can get a ride to anywhere from anywhere.

Many college students are using Uber for an inexpensive ride home from the bars.

“You see on a map when your car is coming, [and] you see how much longer until your Uber will arrive,” said Blake Lanser, senior in child, adult and family services and an Uber driver who’s been driving for the company since August 2015.

Lanser is one of many ISU students who is using Uber not only as a means to get from point to point but also as a means to make a little money on the side.

“It was something I actually applied for about a year and a half ago, Lanser said. “I saw it on Twitter. It said it wasn’t available in my city, then I got an email when they came to Ames asking if I wanted to finish filling out my application.

“Uber drivers are required to show proof of personal insurance; however, the company also holds liability insurance on the drivers.”

Uber’s arrival has affected taxi services such as Cyclone Cab and Ames Taxi Service, but it has not impacted them to the degree that some may think it would have.

“When Uber first started we noticed a decrease of college students riding with us,” said Julie Schlosser, manager for Cyclone Cab and Ames Taxi Service, which are family owned and operated companies in Ames.

The companies didn’t loose all student riders, however.

“Students start calling especially when the surge charge increases,” Schlosser said.

Uber surge pricing is activated when the number of drivers on the road cannot meet the demand of riders, which means the price of someone’s ride increases, Uber’s website states. The service does this because it is a way to motivate more drivers to drive at this time.

“From my understanding, some consumers don’t realize the surge charge or don’t want to deal with a surge charge, so they will call us,” Schlosser said. “We never have surge charges. It is $4 flat fee and $2 per mile.” 

Regardless of the revenue received by car services, Ames is not receiving any of the money other than those garnered from taxes.

Money isn’t everything in the industry though, and all of the companies see every type of person in the back seats of their cars.

“Drunk and intoxicated,” Lanser said of his typical Uber passenger. “One trip summed up every typical person I drive: the one who doesn’t stop talking, passed out one in the back, the touchy feely ‘Oh my god, I love you.’ You just get a whole array of people.”

As for why people may want to subject themselves to using their own vehicle instead of driving a taxi is somewhat simple: it comes down to scheduling.

“Monday through Friday shifts are between five and six drivers from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” Schlosser said. “We have four to five drivers. Overnight shifts that go from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. have three drivers.” 

Taxi companies, like most companies, have set shifts for employees, but Uber drivers can make their own schedules and can work whenever is convenient for them.

“We don’t have to report a schedule or let anyone know when we are driving,” Lanser said. “You could drive for 24 hours straight or a quick half an hour.” 

Taxi companies such as Cyclone Cab and Ames Taxi are still following the traditional way of requesting a cab. People call one of two phone lines and request a pickup and drop-off location, Schlosser said.

The ease of use of the Uber app makes requesting a ride somewhere a little easier. People can also see the car approaching and how much time is left to wait until the Uber driver arrives via the app. Uber also has riders’ cards attached to their accounts, which makes payment easier, according to Uber’s website.

“I have had a lot of people tell me they love how Uber runs,” Lanser said. “You can see the car coming on a map, you can see who your driver is, what your vehicle is, what the license plate number is, so it just gets rid of all that middle work. Plus, Uber has so many more drivers than Ames taxi [services].”

Uber is not just used by students though. It has also been adopted by business travelers.

“It is a real value to a market of Ames,” said Dan Culhane, president of Ames Chamber of Commerce. “[It’s] more of an alternative means of transportation. They have a great business model.”

Uber has also helped bridge the age gap between driver and passenger in towns such as Ames.

“Nine out of 10 times you are going to get someone your age driving you,” Lanser said. “They understand the city better, where if my 40-year-old mother came to drive here she won’t understand Ames as well. Like if I’m drunk and I say, ‘Towers,’ she probably will not know where Towers is.”

Uber’s app makes sure passengers are getting their rides as quickly as possible. Driver requests are all location based, which means if a passenger requests an Uber from his or her apartment, the driver closest to that passenger’s location will be pinged, Lanser said.

“It helps again with that efficiency and making sure you are going to get a driver as fast as possible,” Lanser said.

This method compares to taxi companies, which have the traditional means of calling a phone number for a cab, and then is dispatched from a garage or is called out to all drivers on a shift.

“Uber does have a ride waiting request,” Lanser said. “If someone around that area needs a ride within a certain amount of time [drivers] will get a request. This adds to Uber’s method of efficiency and getting a driver to passengers as quickly as possible. Otherwise if I don’t have a request waiting, I tend to drive back to the Welch area because that is pretty much where everything is.”

Uber’s entrance into Ames’ car-hire market has been a means of more competition for Ames’ taxi companies, but has also been a welcome alternative for passengers. With college students drinking and going out on the weekends, Uber has become another way for them to get home.

“I have received several $20 and $50 tips before from drunk people,” Lanser said. “I always ask if it is over $5 if they are sure they would like to give this to me and they are like ‘yes, take my money.’” 

Although Uber is relatively new to the Ames area, it has brought forth increased competition among transportation companies.