Uber, a new option for Yalies

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Photo by Brianna Loo.

After the car-sharing service Uber launched across Connecticut this past April, Yalies are sorting out whether the new transportation app will gain traction on campus.

Founded in 2009, Uber connects riders with drivers for hire through a mobile application. Customers request rides via their smartphone app and then track their reserved vehicle’s location. Today, Uber has launched in 70 different cities and is becoming more well-known among Yale students. Of 30 Yale students interviewed, 12 said they have used Uber before, whether in Connecticut or another state.

An Uber driver, who has been working for the company for four months and asked to remain anonymous because he does not have permission from his employer to speak to the press, said that at the beginning of the semester especially, many Yale students requested Uber rides. He said the level of business fluctuates daily, though he expects that the number of students using the app will increase around school breaks.

Both drivers and riders are rated based on their driving ability or behavior in the car. Peter Zhang ’15, who has used the application twice in New Haven, said that his ability to screen drivers makes him feel comfortable using the app.

“On Yale’s campus, I think a lot of people would like it because it’s cheap and convenient for short distances,” Zhang said. “One great example would be getting from the train station to campus.”

While Uber could be used to get to suburbs of New Haven or distant restaurants, Chareeni Kurukulasuriya ’16 said taxi use is low in New Haven because the city is walkable and there are options for late-night shuttles.

She also mentioned that students may prefer Zipcars as a cheaper option. A trip from the corner of York Street and Chapel to Union Station costs $8.25 with Uber, while most Zipcars cost $7-$8 an hour.

As Uber and other ridesharing companies have garnered popularity across the country, they have riled up many New Haven-based taxi companies. Taxi industry representatives have accused Uber of certain illegal operations, unfair business practices and unsafe procedures. Specifically, they have bemoaned a lack of city vehicle inspections. As of press time, Uber had not responded to a press inquiry.

Jerry Walthall, owner of Heritage Taxi, a small New Haven-based taxi company, said that taxi companies are suffering because Connecticut is not issuing enough taxi licenses. He said he is frustrated because sometimes he is not able to accommodate all potential customers, since he only has seven licensed cars.

“I’m just hoping that government will allow us to get better work and not turn away customers,” Walthall said.

Walthall added that the Elm City needs more taxis or infrastructure in order to accommodate New Haven’s growing population. Indeed, he said more apartment and corporate complexes are emerging everyday around Yale’s campus.

He added that he thinks institutions, such as Yale University or hotels, will not solicit Uber for customers because there is no way to address issues such as lost luggage or irresponsible driving.

Bill Scalzi, owner of Metro Taxi, said he believes Uber’s problem is public safety, adding that he thinks people are unaware that Uber drivers use their own cars and personal liability insurance.

While many argue Uber charges less than the $2.70 per mile taxis in Connecticut charge, Scalzi noted that rates are not necessarily guaranteed. During peak hours, the rate can double, triple or even quadruple.

“Even if they do save two dollars on a 14-dollar ride, to give up all protections, starting with an unvetted driver, is just astounding to me,” Scalzi said. “It would be simple for Metro Taxi or any cab company to do just what Uber is doing, but regulations are there for a reason. Innovation should never be at the expense of public safety.”

Scalzi believes that Uber and Lyft, another car-sharing service that has gained traction this year, woo students with their free ride offers and discounted fares, though their actions violate certain regulations. He also said that Uber cars are unmarked, meaning that there is initially no way to tell if the ride is from the company.

New Haven is not the only urban college campus to feature Uber. The application has become popular at the University of Chicago as well, according to Thomas Healy ’16. While he understands the concern over safety, he said he is not worried.

“Even alone, I’ve found Uber drivers, nearly across the board, treat me more courteously and provide a better ride experience than your average taxi driver,” Healy said. “If we define safety as the chance of your encountering danger or harm, on your ride, then I also feel safer in an Uber simply because they’re better drivers than taxis.”

Uber is headquartered in San Francisco.

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