Uber comes to Charlottesville

Rideshare service to provide new transit option


Popular ride-sharing program Uber pulled into Charlottesville last week. On Thursday, Uber launched services in 24 new cities across the U.S., most of which are college towns.

“Part of our effort is to bring reliable and safe transportation to everyone, everywhere,” Uber spokesperson Taylor Bennett said. “College towns are a great place to do that. With school starting back and football season kicking in, we figured no better time to do that than now.”

Uber runs through a mobile application that easily connects riders with drivers. After setting up an account, users enter their pickup location and select a car type to request a ride. The app finds and sends the nearest available driver to the location.

Users are given estimates for fare and arrival times after entering their desired destination. Users can also request rides for friends or clients. A ride costs a $3.75 base fare — including a line item $1 fee to fund safety initiatives — with an additional $0.25 per minute and $1.50 per mile. The minimum fare is $5.

“With the push of a button, [you] have access to on-demand transportation,” Bennett said. “It’s all cashless, so there’s no need to have the right amount of change or worry about having cash.”

Uber primarily differs from a taxi service in that it doesn’t hire drivers –– rather, it partners with independent contractors who set their own schedules.

“We’ve created a mobile marketplace that connects riders with drivers who are independent contractors,” Bennett said. “These are folks who are just like you and I. They’re very much their own small business owners.”

Drivers are allowed access to the Uber platform to connect with riders only after passing stringent background checks. They must also fit other requirements such as having a valid driver’s license and a personal car with proper insurance.

Uber utilizes a system of real-time feedback and ratings. At the end of every ride, riders and drivers are asked to rate each other on a scale of one to 10 and provide comments.

“We take immediate action if we come across any issues, concerns or complaints that may arise,” Bennett said. “There’s a real level of transparency built into the app itself.”

Earlier in June, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles issued cease and desist letters to Uber and Lyft, another ride-sharing service, for operating without proper permits. The two companies were also fined more than $35,000 in civil penalties.

“Virginia law requires for-hire passenger carriers to have proper operating authority,“according to a letter sent to Uber by DMV commissioner Richard D. Holcomb. “Though certain types of passenger carrier arrangements are excluded from this requirement, none of those exclusions applies to Uber’s operations […] because Uber receives compensation for its services.”

After the letters were issued, Attorney General Mark Herring’s office reached out to the two companies, the DMV and Governor Terry McAuliffe’s administration to discuss how to bring the companies into compliance and institute safety measures for passengers, said Michael Kelly, spokesman for the Attorney General’s office. Uber and Lyft were eventually granted temporary operating authority on Aug. 6.

“These companies have been issued broker’s licenses and temporary operating authority by the DMV as long as they comply with a broad range of important safety and transparency measures as outlined in the news release,” Kelly said. “These include strong background checks and insurance requirements for operators.”

The DMV is currently leading a study on Virginia’s passenger carrier laws and transportation network companies such as Uber to determine a permanent regulatory solution in time for the 2015 legislative session, and has invited Uber and other stakeholders to participate in the study.

“The agreement that brought them into compliance can certainly serve as a framework for a permanent solution and the DMV will also have several months of data to evaluate in determining the best course forward,” Kelly said.

With Thursday’s launch, Uber is now available in 205 cities across 45 countries worldwide.

“With yesterday’s push, 55 percent of the U.S. now has access to Uber,” Bennett said. “That was just one more notch in the progress we’re making. We’re going to continue to enter college towns across the U.S. and new markets across the world.”

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