SARATOGA SPRINGS — Uber driver Mike Burke starts his shift in Schenectady, his hometown, and goes where the riders take him.
He usually ends up at Saratoga Race Course. He was there Wednesday afternoon.
“Business is really good,” he said, leaning back against his car with his Uber phone app open. “I think it’s a good service for customers. They like it. Even coming from Broadway, they’re just happy not to have to walk over here — not to have to find parking. They can drink what they want and not worry about getting back, taking that chance of driving.”
He said track-goers were reluctant to hail a cab before ride sharing came to town.
“Cabs were taking advantage of people,” he said. “I hate to say that, but that’s what happened. That’s the main complaint I’ve gotten since day one.”
Uber, the New York Racing Association’s official ride-sharing service, has proven popular around the racetrack in its first year of business in upstate New York — enough so that NYRA had to change the marked pickup and drop-off location on Frank Sullivan Place, near Gate 7. The narrow road was congested with traffic, with the high number of people hailing Uber rides causing gridlock during opening weekend — “It was just crazy,” Burke said.
“Due to the popularity of ride-sharing services on opening weekend, NYRA has moved the dedicated Uber zone to a location that will lead to faster pickups and drop-offs and will be an added convenience for the fans,” NYRA spokesman Pat McKenna said.
On Wednesday, drivers and riders were notified about the new Uber docking area — the parking lot at the corner of Union and East avenues, directly across from the main gates.
“I think it’s 100 percent better,” said Burke, 59, who retired from the U.S. Post Office in May.
Burke said the first location, where taxis have traditionally operated, was difficult to navigate.
“It was worse for the passengers, because they had to walk almost a block from the gate to get down there," he said. “For the drivers, you got cabs over there, limos over there, and then getting in and out was a pain.”
Burke, who also drives for Lyft, said he started driving “part time” June 29 — the day ride sharing became legal in upstate New York.
“I work my own hours, which is the best,” he said.
He said driving people to the thoroughbred races in Saratoga Springs has been a good experience despite the traffic issues on Frank Sullivan Place. Uber sent him an email on opening day, which was Friday, telling him to go to there. The company sent him another email Wednesday saying to go to the lot at Union and East avenues.
For customers, opening the Uber app near the racetrack results in a message popping up, telling them to exit via the front gates and cross Union Avenue to meet their driver.
“They’re keeping us aware of what’s going on,” Burke said.