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Uber hits the streets running in Wheeling

By CASEY JUNKINS

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — No longer will city resident Frank Haller need to drive all the way to Pittsburgh to pick up passengers seeking Uber transportation because the ridesharing service is now online in Wheeling.

Uber driver Frank Haller of Wheeling crosses the Wheeling Suspension Bridge toward downtown Tuesday, which was the first day the ride-sharing service was available in Wheeling.
(Photo by Casey Junkins)

Haller, who said at one point recently he made about $1,000 in a week driving for Uber in Pittsburgh, got his first Wheeling ride request around 6 p.m. Tuesday. He drove two passengers from the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center on Main Street to Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and back for a cost of $9.88.

“I’m glad it’s here,” he said. “I think it will continue to grow.”

City leaders hold the same sentiment. In fact, on Tuesday, Councilman Ty Thorngate actually became the first Uber passenger in Wheeling shortly after the service became active in the city. He showcased his trip on Facebook Live.

“It was a great experience. To be the first guy to do it in Wheeling is special,” Thorngate said.

Thorngate said riding from the Dimmeydale section of the city to Centre Market cost $10.25. He knows the service will probably start slow in Wheeling, but said it will grow as many learn of its availability.

“It will be popular for those experiencing nightlife,” he said.

Tuesday was the culmination of efforts by Uber and city officials to bring the ridesharing service to Wheeling. The West Virginia Legislature approved a bill in February 2016 allowing ridesharing companies to operate within the state’s borders. Subsequently, Uber popped up in a few cities, such as Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown.

“City council passed a resolution about a year ago inviting Uber to Wheeling. (Mayor Glenn Elliott) and I had several conference calls and exchanged several emails with Uber officials last year,” Wheeling Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said. “We made the pitch that Wheeling is a place where Uber can succeed.”

Elliott said use may be relatively light early on as drivers in the area are scarce, but should increase significantly once it gets going. On Tuesday, there were at least two drivers working in the city, but the demand for more will increase.

“It’s important to keep in mind that the demand for Uber rides in these initial weeks will very likely outpace the supply of Uber drivers. My understanding is that they are in the process of hiring additional drivers and will be expanding service based on the actual demand,” he said.

For more information on how to become an Uber driver, go to uber.com/drive.

To use the service, one must either register on Uber’s website or download the app to use on an iOS (Apple), Android or Windows device and set up an account.

After that, a user simply requests a ride by entering a pickup location. Once the ride is complete, the user can rate the experience. Uber automatically charges the credit card on file. No cash is needed.

The service is generally available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, as long as drivers are working. Trip fares start with a base amount, then increase with time and distance. When demand is higher than normal, drivers earn more.

According to Elliott and Thalman, Uber’s operation indicates that the city has made progress, and the availability of the service will help the city progress even further.

“I’ve lost track of the number of visitors I’ve spoken to who were shocked and disappointed that Uber wasn’t available in Wheeling,” Thalman said. “Many people, especially young people, who are looking to live in an urban environment expect to have access to Uber.”

As newcomers continue moving into downtown Wheeling to live in the Boury Lofts, Stone Center Lofts and other new housing developments, Elliott said many of them may be accustomed to living in cities that do not require one to own a vehicle.

“In 2017, ridesharing services like Uber are expected features of cities, particularly for those individuals who want to live where they are not dependent on having their own cars. This helps us meet those expectations and makes us more competitive,” he said.

Elliott also said Uber’s availability should assist with public safety because those experiencing nightlife will be less likely to get behind the wheel in an impaired state. Also, for current residents who depend on public buses that only run during daytime hours, Uber gives them a new choice.

“It will not only hopefully reduce incidents of drunk driving, but it will also expand transportation options for those who currently don’t drive or prefer not to,” Elliott added.

See more from The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

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