Uber has been operating in the state for just over a month now. Their launch followed Governor Matt Mead’s signing of a bill to legally authorize ride-sharing companies in Wyoming. However, while some consumers have been taking advantage of the service, others are less excited.
Branden French was one of the very first drivers to start working for Uber in March. Right now, he’s a university student in Laramie. He said Mead signed the bill on a Friday, and he was on the road that weekend.
“It was Saturday or Sunday that I was first driving, and it was great!” said French. “I mean, I-80 was shut down at the time. So it came down to the point where all these truck drivers were flooding into Laramie. And they were all parked everywhere.”
French said a lot of them needed a ride for a warm meal, so they used the Uber app on their smartphones to request a driver.
“And I’d pick them up, drive them where they need to go and I was getting multiple requests, one after the next, and after the next,” said French.
The service works just like that. A customer uses the Uber application on their phone to type in their destination. Then an estimated fare is given before the rider can choose to send a request to the nearest available driver.
It sounds very similar to requesting a taxi ride, but it’s actually different.
Franz Schreiner is the territory manager for Uber. He said the company offers a different kind of service.
“We’re a transportation network company that builds a smartphone application where you can use your personal car to give people rides, and that’s really one of the things that sets us apart from cabs,” said Schreiner.
Compared to cab companies, Uber has very few regulations. Schreiner said that’s by design because the company wants to make it as easy as possible for someone to earn extra income by driving on the platform. Schreiner said interested drivers go online, fill out a couple of quick forms, and undergo a background screening process.
“And in a few days, you are hopefully ready to start driving and then you just download the Uber driving app and you can start immediately whenever you want,” said Schreiner.
The lack of regulation has caught the attention of cab companies. Tom Elliott is the owner of Casper cabs, which has been in business just over ten years. He said Uber is not fair competition.
“Generally speaking, they are a lower price than a taxi,” said Elliott. “But that’s because they don’t have all the overheads.”
According to Elliott, taxi drivers face more stringent background checks and companies have to purchase expensive commercial insurance to cover cars, even when they’re not in use.
Uber only insures drivers when they have a passenger in their vehicle. Elliott also said the state of Wyoming has agreed to lower safety standards specifically for Uber drivers. He said many cab companies are already losing money.
“It’s quite likely that some of us, all of us, will go out of business,” said Elliott.
According to Uber’s Franz Schreiner, the service has become very popular.
“And over the course of the past month, we’ve seen amazing growth on the trip side of things and we’re really excited for what the future holds for Wyoming, and we’re happy to be a part of it,” said Schreiner.
That could include service in some of the state’s more rural areas. But one challenge may be how popular it is with drivers.
Uber driver Branden French said when he first started driving in Laramie, he saw an immediate demand.
“But now, the market is so flooded with drivers and there’s just not that many people utilizing it, especially throughout the daylight hours,” said French.
French said the high number of drivers in Laramie and lower demand has significantly impacted his pay. Time will only tell how well the service both catches on and remains popular in state.