Uber, ride sharing gaining steam in western Nevada County
Uber drivers earn extra money for referring others into the business. In order to earn his bonus, area driver Bob Aydelott said he’d be happy to help guide interested parties through the driver application process and give them any advice on how to make the most from driving. He’s available at 916-390-2903.
Uber has come to Grass Valley.
Actually, the ride-sharing company has been available in the area for quite some time, it’s just a matter of finding an available driver.
“My guess is, there are probably about 20 drivers up here right now,” said Uber driver Bob Aydelott, who lives a few miles southwest of Grass Valley.
For those who don’t know, Uber is an app people can download on to their smartphones. The app allows people to electronically hail a ride. A certified driver, contracted through Uber, will take you where you need to go without any cash changing hands. All funds are transferred electronically via credit card or other forms of payment.
Riders are told what the fare will be before they hail the car and driver. For years, Uber also focused on “no tipping” the drivers. Nowadays there is an option on the app to leave a tip once the ride is complete.
It’s popularity has exploded in recent years in cities and has worked its way into more rural areas like Nevada County. Other apps are working their way into the mainstream as well, including Lyft, which offers similar services.
A driver’s experience
Aydelott, who has worked in sales for much of his career, has been driving for Uber for a couple years now. Many times he’ll head to Sacramento, where the action is. Other times he’ll head to the Bay Area where he has family and friends.
If a ride takes him from this area into a metro area, many times he finds himself driving in whichever town he’s in for a while. A driver doesn’t know where they’re going until they pick up a rider.
“I usually try to get somewhere where something is happening,” Aydelott said. “I came up during World Fest to get people around but ended up taking someone to Yuba City. Once I dropped them off there, I just kept getting ride after ride in Yuba City.”
But even with plans go awry, it doesn’t really matter much to the driver … or at least not to Aydelott. Driving isn’t his favorite part of the job.
“Definitely the people,” Aydelott said when asked what he enjoyed the most. “There are so many incredible stories and such a wide cross-section of people, that’s definitely the best part of the job.”
One of the features on Uber is “surge pricing.” When there are more requests for rides than drivers available, prices automatically go up. So a ride that may have cost $6 the previous day may cost $10 today, depending on demand.
That attracted more drivers to areas they were needed. Shrewd drivers will look at music, sports and events and time their arrival for when a flood of people suddenly need a ride home.
Aydelott said, however, that heading for the bigger population centers, such as San Francisco, isn’t always the way to go anymore. He said The City has gotten so saturated with drivers that sometimes it’s tough to make enough money to make it worth the trip.
Aydelott also said that San Francisco itself is getting better and more organized with actual ride-sharing programs — meaning situations where two people happen to be going the same direction and choose to share a ride without money changing hands, or with people offering to split the cost of fuel.
So most of the time Aydelott finds himself driving in the Sacramento, Marysville and Grass Valley areas.
Uber drivers are only able to accept one ride at a time, so when a driver is hailed, they become unavailable on the app. In areas like Grass Valley, that may mean someone in need of a ride finds “No drivers available.”
In order to not miss out on fares, some drivers have posted contact numbers in local eateries and watering holes. That way, if a driver isn’t appearing on the app a rider still may have a chance to get a ride.
“A couple years ago I went to bars and restaurants in Grass Valley and Nevada City and talked to the owners,” Aydelott said. “I talked to 42 different businesses. Two of them had smart phones and one had heard of Uber. I left cards and let them know to have people call me for rides …
“No one ever called. I think if I went back and did a pass now, though, it would probably work a lot better.
Aydelott said he drove for both Uber and Lyft for a while — it’s not uncommon to see both insignias in a vehicle’s windows when it comes to pick up a rider — but he found it difficult to navigate two apps at the same time so he sticks primarily with Uber these days.
Potential road blocks
One of the obvious advantages to having access to a ride-sharing program or app is to get home safe after a night on the town.
In places with higher population densities and more drivers, starting the evening by leaving the car in the garage is becoming more and more popular. After all, a $5 or $10 or even $20 ride is considerably cheaper than the thousands of dollars a DUI will set you back — and that’s not even addressing the public safety issue involved with getting behind the wheel after having one too many.
That said, in more rural areas like western Nevada County, drivers may not always be available at all hours of the night and into the morning. Someone may be able to get you to the party, but that driver may have signed off by the time you’re ready to head home. Having a backup plan, such as the number for a cab company, could be the key to getting home safe.
To hail a ride, all one needs to do is download the Uber app, input payment information and tap the screen for a ride.
To become a driver is, obviously, more complicated — but maybe not as difficult as many would think. Uber requires a car inspection as well as standard paperwork to be turned in, such as license, registration and proof of insurance.
Then, once Uber has processed the paperwork and done a background check, a driver can hit the road — guided by an Uber Partner app, which is separate from the standard Uber app. There’s no limit as to the amount of time someone can drive and there’s no employee scheduled to go by. If a driver wants to drive, they can turn on the app and make themselves available. When they’re done, they just shut it off and go home.
Some rides aren’t highly profitable for a driver. If the driver has to go 10 miles to pick up a rider who only wants to go a few blocks, there’s not a lot of money to be made.
That said, there are also longer fares, such as someone needing a ride to the airport.
“The longest drive I had was from Rocklin to the San Francisco Airport,” Aydelott said. “It was someone flying to Iran. You meet people from all different cultures.”
Aydelott said the drive earned him right around $100.
On the other end of the spectrum, Aydelott said he tried to hit San Francisco at the end of a Giants game. Instead of getting a bunch of drives in for higher “surged” fares, he picked up one rider, got stuck in traffic and only earned a few bucks since Uber pays much more per mile than it does per minute. (The price of fares differs from region to region, but as an example, Sacramento’s region will cost you around 75 cents a mile and 12 cents a minute.)
Aydelott said he had his best day recently when he was summoned to a Sacramento hospital. They handed him a package and said to get it to a hospital in Reno ASAP. Turns out it was a medical equipment to spread open up a chest. Reno didn’t have the correct size and needed it shipped in right away.
He said the fare paid him about $100, but they gave him a $300 tip in Reno, along with a handshake.
“The guy I gave it to held on to my hand for an extra second,” Aydelott said, “and told me I may have saved someone’s life.”
Ross Maak is the city editor at The Union. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4229.
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