By Miranda Wilder, Staff Writer
Uber, a modified taxi service, has started offering rides to and from Durham, particularly targeting University of New Hampshire students.
The entire service is controlled via an app, making it simple for people in need of rides to contact Uber on their cellphones.
“It’s all right there for the students,” said Ryan Fallon, who has been an Uber driver since December. “They don’t even have to get out of their apartment or dorm until we’re out front.”
As Fallon puts it, the app acts as the host – the client notifies the app for a ride, and the app then notifies any available drivers in the area. The driver is able to accept or decline the fare at his own discretion, but it is rare that a driver will decline a fare.
Fallon is optimistic that with a viable market and enough customers, Uber is bound to do well.
“I’ve driven UNH students home and they’ve told me they would love to have things like that,” he said, “because if they miss the bus late at night, they have no ride.”
“I happened to see a young kid standing outside when it was 20 degrees out. She missed the transit and it was 1 o’clock in the morning . . . I completely felt like we should have [Uber] there.”
According to Fallon, Uber covers a pretty wide range in New Hampshire.
“It’s not just for UNH, it’s for the town of Durham as well,” he said. “It covers the entire city of Durham, plus the surrounding communities.”
The service is based in Portsmouth, where he originally started driving, but has stretched to a radius including Dover, Durham, Newmarket, Rye, Exeter and Stratham. It depends on how far the driver is willing to go, if it is a logical distance and if the drive will prove profitable enough to cover expenses.
All transactions are paid through the app, and both driver and client are able to rate each other based on how the ride went. If either the driver or customer is particularly dissatisfied or enthused about the experience, the app will save the rating for future rides.
The app also allows customers to type in their destination prior to pick-up in order to estimate the exact cost of the ride. There are no additional fees.
Uber covers all the basic safety precautions, hiring only after drivers have gone through a background check, which also requires the verification of a valid driver’s license, car registration and insurance.
While a driver is on duty, the vehicle is covered by commercial insurance, so Fallon is not at all worried about liabilities or vehicular damages from drunk or unruly students and passengers.
“For me, I don’t fear anything,” he said. “If they made a mess, there is a cleaning fee. We’re very transparent about our policies. I think with students as well, they understand that this is not a cab – it’s a personal vehicle. If you have a low rating we won’t pick you up.”
UNH is known for Safe Rides, a program that picks up students who are stranded and not sober enough to drive.
Safe Rides is covered in the student activity fee with no extra cost. Uber, although costing about $2 per mile and 23 cents per minute, provides the opportunity for all students and non-students in the area.
Other competitors in the area include Campus Rides, a profit company that was founded a little over a year and a half ago.
Chief operating officer Avrum Niebling is not at all concerned about competition with Uber, because he finds that the priorities for each driving service are slightly different.
“We’re not really concerned about Uber,” he said, “because, you know, we think Uber’s going to be a great cause for students going to Portsmouth [or other neighboring towns]. Our focus is specifically just showing kids around Durham. We have a system that is sort of optimized for that.”
“[Uber] is optimized for rides longer than three or four miles. If it’s really busy and our wait times are high, we expect people will use Uber.”
Campus Rides can carry large parties, whereas Uber typically has about four available seats and is better for single rides or small groups, because the vehicles are privately owned. Niebling also stated that Campus Rides is generally cheaper than Uber, mainly because of the smaller distance it has to cover to drop students off.
“Our service is also cheaper,” Niebling said. “We really operate primarily on Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights when Uber is typically in surge. You can pay $20-$30 a ride, where it’s about $2-$3 per person with us.”
Uber is a 24-hour service and will run seven days a week, depending on driver availability. Manchester has around 30 drivers at this point, and Fallon is hopeful that if enough people know and use Uber, this area could have just as many.
“The number one thing I’ve always come to find,” Fallon said, “is it’s just like any other brand. They [Campus Rides] have their fans that love them. With Uber, we have our fans. It’s really up to the customer.”