By Nick BeJeaux
Legally or otherwise, the ridesharing company Uber has begun offering its services in Baton Rouge, and despite grumblings from the Taxicab Commission regarding the company’s failure to fill out paperwork and pay fees, its integration into BR city life is otherwise going extremely well.
Jack Zeringue is a Baton Rouge resident and native of New Orleans – which is still debating whether or not to invite ridesharing companies – whose most recent Uber ride was to Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar & Restaurant. He had his first experience with the app while living in Washington D.C. and was happy to see the company move into BR.
“I grew up in New Orleans and took cabs all the time there, and recently lived in D.C. for about six weeks and used Uber almost every day. It’s way more convenient, in my opinion,” he said. “We ‘hailed’ a driver off the application, and were able to watch his car make his way to our location on the application’s map. He was a great driver, and talked us through everything he knew about Uber and what it takes to become a driver. He went the fastest route possible, something I am not always accustomed to when taking cabs. The car was a recent model of a Toyota Camry, and very clean.”
Andrew Crawford used Uber to meet some friends at the Rum House (a wise decision; the parking there is awful, though their calamari is so worth parking a mile away). Having used local taxis before, Crawford immediately found Uber superior.
“The cars arrived within 10 to 20 minutes after paging them and the drivers were friendly, courteous and professional,” he said. “The cars were clean and well maintained. The first ride I took the driver offered a bottle of water for the ride, which I thought was a nice touch. I think it is nicer than a taxi. Most cabs (especially Yellow Cab) in this town are run down and not well maintained. The Uber drivers use their own car and they want to keep it in good condition for themselves when they aren’t driving people like me around town. It makes a difference.”
Uber’s drivers also think very highly of the company and not just because they can drive in their spare time, use their own car (though it has to be newer than a 2007 model and no more than four years old), they earn an average of $27 per hour during a busy night or have to worry about holding onto a wad of cash (all transactions are completed through the app).
“I know exactly who I’m picking up, and they know who I am before I pick them up; you don’t have that with a taxi. Everyone that I have driven say they love this program. They’ve been waiting for something like this to come along in the city.”
“I know exactly who I’m picking up, and they know who I am before I pick them up; you don’t have that with a taxi,” said a local driver simply known as A. “Everyone that I have driven say they love this program. They’ve been waiting for something like this to come along in the city.”
A’s real name is Rajin Assuria, and he works for a financial company when he isn’t driving folks around. When I spoke to him on July 17, it was his first week with Uber – which is also his first job in the realm of ridesharing. While unsure about taxicab regulations, Rajin believes that Uber’s standards are more than adequate.
“I really think that this is a big help for the community because we can offer fast, safe and clean rides to wherever you want to go to,” he said. “Like, when you leave you can rate your ride out of five stars and that goes toward my overall rating. If my rating dropped below a certain level, I would be called in and evaluated. If I get called in again, I could lose my job, so Uber has very high standards.”
Those high standards include a dress code, days upon days of driver training in customer service, and strict cleanliness rules.
Uber is still in its infancy, and that has led to a few issues, but a shortage of drivers and no set hours of operation seem to be the most prominent. Still, that isn’t enough to derail the enthusiasm.
“We did have issues getting an Uber later on around 10 p.m. as there were not any drivers working,” said Zeringue. “But we understood that it’s in the very early stages and still in the process of gaining workers.”
According to Rajin, Uber is hoping to have over 100 drivers operating in the city. To sign up for an account, or to be a driver, visit www.uber.com.