Before Mark Weekes launched his car service, he read online reviews of Capital Region taxi companies.
The three most common complaints: The driver was rude. The car was dirty. The cab never came.
“How hard is it to keep cars clean and not be rude?” Weekes asked me. “That’s why I started my business. It’s not that hard.”
Last week I put out a plea for a local ride-hailing service – something that could serve as an alternative to Silicon Valley-based companies such as Uber and Lyft.
One person who responded to me was Weekes, a Schenectady police officer who also runs Fare, a five-vehicle business that aims to provide higher-quality service than traditional taxi companies.
Fare sounded a little bit like the kind of locally-based alternative to Uber that I’m looking for, and I met with Weekes at his Erie Boulevard office to hear more.
We discussed his company, the challenges involved in owning a fleet of cars and using them to transport passengers throughout the Capital Region and the possible impact ride-hailing might have on his business as it expands to upstate New York this summer.
Weekes, 32, should be a familiar name to Daily Gazette readers.
He was violently assaulted while patrolling downtown Schenectady in August 2015, and suffered a skull fracture, brain bleed and broken finger. It was a frightening attack, but Weekes returned to his job in traffic enforcement several months later and continues to serve part time in the National Guard. He is upbeat and gregarious, with a clear vision for what he wants Fare to be.
When Weekes founded Fare, in 2015, he did so knowing Uber and Lyft would likely come to the Capital Region, and he incorporated features popular with Uber users into his business. Riders can arrange for a car using an app, payments are made by credit card and the cars are black.
“When the taxi services were fighting Uber … we were trying to figure out what we could do to compete,” Weekes said.
Weekes’ cars are also outfitted with cameras and monitored by GPS; Weekes can pull up a map and see where the vehicles are and what they are doing. Passengers can also book rides on Fare’s website.
I’ve only used Uber a couple of times, but it was enough to convince me that being able to summon a car without standing in the street and waving my arms, or speaking to an overly gruff dispatcher on the phone, is something I appreciate. I also like how easy it is to set up an account and pay for a ride using a credit card linked to that account, rather than handing a driver cash or asking them to swipe plastic.
The appeal of Fare is similarly obvious, but it is not a taxi company, or a ride-hailing company.
Unlike a taxi company, Fare requires that customers reserve vehicles about 12 hours in advance, which means people with immediate transportation needs must go elsewhere.
Unlike a ride-hailing company, Weekes owns and maintains his cars and his drivers are employees he’s vetted personally; Uber and Lyft do not own their cars, and maintain that their drivers are independent contractors, something that has been challenged in the courts.
Fare might not be able to meet the needs of everyone at all times, but few businesses can make that claim. Weekes is a conscientious person who is determined to deliver a high-quality product, and those two qualities make Fare a company I would consider using.
Transportation is more than a hobby for Weekes – it is a passion and longtime interest.
His father was a bus driver, and he grew up wanting to drive buses, too.
He enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from Schenectady High School, and made extra money driving the British nationals who trained at the Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina around. When he returned to the Capital Region, he drove buses while working toward becoming a police officer.
“I like moving and I like transportation,” Weekes told me. “I like the logistics of it, the planning. With my background in buses, I was sure I could do a better job than the taxi companies.”
Weekes was never opposed to ride-hailing, and he doesn’t view the arrival of Uber in the Capital Region as something to fear.
“We need the competition to push us forward,” he said. “I welcome the competition.”