While the introduction of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft is only about a month old in the Capital Region, early returns indicate area residents — and those looking to make cash on the side driving — are fans of the emergent transportation option and the convenience for which its known.
At the Saratoga Race Course, where Uber is the officially designated ride-hailing company, nearly a dozen drivers who work for the service queued adjacent to the track outside of Siro’s Restaurant.
Many of the drivers were scrolling through the company’s app on their smartphones, waiting to be called upon to shuttle track-goers home or to their next destination.
A man who gave his name as Olakunle said he’s been driving for Uber in the Capital Region since its introduction in late-June.
“So far so good,” said Olakunle, who drives throughout Troy, Schenectady, Saratoga and Albany. “You control your own time and I like interacting with new people. If you don’t like people, you can’t do Uber.”
James Chaney, a teaching assistant in an area school district, said Uber was a life-saver for him during the lean summer months.
“I used to borrow against my retirement, and this was a saving grace in that I’m able to subsist and pay my bills and pay back money that I borrowed,” said Chaney, who is in a wheelchair and has a side business as a motivational speaker.
Chaney estimated that he’s made close to 350 trips since the Uber and Lyft came to the area.
He added that the trick to being a successful ride-hail driver is to go out at peak times: in the early morning to catch those who use such services to get to work, then again in the late-afternoon when rush hour begins. The other peak time is late at night, when people need ride homes after a night on the town.
There’s also the attractions, like the race track, where people congregate and are typically drinking.
“I’m just waiting for the rain to start,” said Chaney, as storm clouds hovered overhead and drops sprinkled down. “People tend to not want to get wet.”
Chaney said he’s heard of friction between traditional cab drivers and Uber and Lyft drivers, as the former category sees those services and the technology that enables them cutting into their business. In his experience, however, most cab drivers are friendly, and the most popular question he gets asked by cabbies is if it’s worth it to switch to the ride-hailing model.
“We’re all one big family, it’s one job,” he said.
Another driver, who works for both Uber and Lyft and declined to give his name, said customers in the region were quick to download the requisite apps and start using the services.
“Pretty much everyone is thankful that it’s here now,” said the man. “They’re not getting ripped off by taxi drivers and now they can just go out and have a good time.”
David Van Vleet and Ray Vital spent the day at the track and were heading home about 3 p.m., looking for an Uber. The two lived in Charleston, S.C., where ride-hailing services were introduced some time ago, and both said they were waiting for the state Legislature to enable the companies to expand into upstate New York.
“When you plan on drinking and don’t want to drive, it’s a great option,” said Van Vleet.
Vital said his favorite thing about ride-hailing services is that he can see the price of the trip before he commits to taking it.
“It’s a lot cheaper too than traditional taxis,” added Van Vleet.
Vital said he once took an Uber to Albany International Airport when his car broke down, just so he could rent a car at the airport.
Emily Gins lives in Manhattan but was visiting friends in the area when her group left the race track, looking for an Uber. She said the service is ubiquitous in New
York City, and she was surprised to learn that the rest of the state was going without.
“The fact that they didn’t have Uber was astonishing,” said Gins.
Heather Lewis, Gins’ friend, said she most appreciates the convenience of services like Uber and Lyft.
“You don’t have to worry or pre-plan your rides, you can just be like, ‘Oh it’s always there,’” said Lewis.
Both women said they feel for operators of traditional cab services whose business will be affected by Uber and Lyft, but that the experience of using the app-based services is superior to hailing a cab streetside.
“I feel like the cabs are all over the place with prices,” said Lewis. “Like one would be like $15 and the next one told me $7, so it was inconsistent. But Uber tells you ahead of time, so that’s good.”
Gins said when she’s looking for a ride in New York City, she’ll actually use Uber’s app to haggle with yellow cab drivers, who often come out with a cheaper quote.
“I can look and see what Uber says and then ask them,” said Gins. “And they don’t know what Uber is going to say.”