By Quinn Welsch
As others make plans to go out on a Friday night, Jackie Wright’s plan is already in place.
After leaving work in a law office, Wright hops into her 2014 Honda Accord, flips on her phone, and waits for a ping. She’s been driving for Uber almost since the rideshare service launched uberX in Baton Rouge last July, its most affordable program. It’s a second job for Wright, but it’s one that she enjoys.
“You get the very professional, you get the stoic kind – who want you to know where they’re going and then they won’t say another word – then you have the others who get in the car and they tell you their entire life story and then of course you have the lovers,” Wright said of her riders.
Meeting different characters makes the job enjoyable, she said, but getting them between locations safely makes it meaningful.
A joint study released at the end of January by Uber and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) showed a correlation between a reduction in drunk driving incidents within certain cities where Uber operates and the company’s launch dates in those cities.
For instance, the study showed that arrests for driving while intoxicated in Seattle were reduced by 10 percent since Uber began operating there in 2013. The study also showed that alcohol related crashes decreased by 6.5 percent among drivers 30-and-younger after Uber introduced uberX to its California markets.
Uber’s reasoning is sound, said Thomas Hayes, the general manager of Uber operations in New Orleans.
“It makes logical sense that increasing the number of options and ease of access [for people who are] out drinking will have a positive impact on the number of people getting behind the wheel,” he said.
The company’s study stated, “We believe there is a direct relationship between the presence of uberX in a city and the amount of drunk driving crashes involving younger populations.”
Though, Uber’s data in California showed that alcohol related crashes were on the decline where it operated in areas of California and in areas where it did not operate.
Parsing the numbers
In addition, DWI arrests by LSU police have generally been on the decline since 2012.
“When you’re dealing with numbers and statistics there’s a lot of variables involved,” LSU police spokesperson Capt. Cory Lalonde said. “It’s hard to say the reasons behind those trends.”
DWI arrests by LSU police were at 70 in 2012, 30 in 2013, 22 in 2014 and five in 2015 so far, according to LSU police. The sudden decrease after 2012 was due to a grant program that targeted drunk driving, Lalonde said. While DWI arrests have declined (generally), the amount of alcohol-related crashes have remained fairly static, Lalonde said.
Still, all forms of transportation play a role in reducing drunk driving, whether it’s Uber or Tiger Trails, Lalonde said. And Uber certainly contributes.
Just ask Wright. For every five riders she gets, four of them need a ride because they’ve been drinking, she said.
“You’d be surprised how many drunk people are out there,” she said. (Or maybe you wouldn’t.)
When she first began driving in August, there were about 30 drivers in Baton Rouge, she said. But that number has since increased to 40-50. The company has kept competitive rates in Baton Rouge, starting off at 20 percent cheaper than a local taxi and then reducing fees to 36 percent cheaper, Hayes said. The base fare in Baton Rouge is $1.75, $0.25 per minute and $1.35 per mile.
Wright said she turns a decent profit as an Uber driver. On a good night, that means collecting about $400. During football season, that number would have been in the four digits, she said.
“The sky is the limit.”
“It means a lot to me.”
The money is good, but she said it’s more than just making money. Uber has taken over Wright’s nightlife. She’s missed out on her favorite shows, like Scandal and Empire, but she doesn’t think twice about it. Uber is how she meets people and visits new parts of the city. It’s how she helps people too.
“There are times when that motherly instinct comes out, where I feel like I’m obligated to make sure that person gets home,” Wright said. “As opposed to ‘you’re at your destination, get out of my car.’”
A few times she’s had to walk (or carry) people from the car to make sure they get home safely. Younger women have been especially thankful to have a female driver, she said.
And most of her riders are younger, as is Uber’s target market. But since football season ended, the market has been evening out, she said. That includes everyone from your college student in Tigerland to older folks going out on a date night.
“I love it, seriously. I was in an auto accident where I was hit by a drunk driver, so I kind of feel like I’m doing something to help in some sort of way,” Wright said. “Not trying to sound Pollyannaish or anything, but it means a lot to me.”