Uber recently arrived in Cincinnati, offering high-end and more affordable transportation options. (Photo courtesy of Uber)
CINCINNATI - It was a Friday night and Mitch Lloyd was looking for a way to get around town.
Cabs just were not cutting it: “There was a lot of demand for rides and not a lot of supply.”
So, instead of picking up his smartphone to make yet another call, he tapped the Uber icon on his phone’s home screen and found a ride.
Some Cincinnati residents may have noticed advertisements for Lyft, a ridesharing company.
And, there's always Metro. The Cincinnati bus service is working to keep pace with changes in rider habits: younger people who want to get to and from downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
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So, instead of picking up his smartphone to make yet another call, he tapped an icon on his phone’s home screen that found a ride.
The app is called Uber and it’s for an international ride service that recently launched in the Tri-State.
Lloyd said his driver reminded him of a chauffeur and the ride of a chauffeur-style service, even though Lloyd's first time around was the driver’s first Uber trip.
“People like me would never hire a chauffeur service to take them on a Friday night, but Uber made sense,” Lloyd said, adding that he heard about the service at work.
The experience was good for Lloyd. Once he made a reservation for the ride on his smart phone he got an estimate for how much is trip would cost, which seemed to him to be a little more than a cab fare.
“But the sheer convenience factors, knowing where they are and when they’ll be there is worth more than enough (for the money),” he said.
Uber arrives in the Tri-State
Downtown Cincinnati has become home more than 200 restaurants in the past 10 years and was recently named one of "Six small cities with big food scenes," by USA Today.
Since 2004, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) has invested $717 million in redeveloping and revamping the city’s urban core, which is part of the reason Uber execs thought driving into Cincinnati was a smart move.
“Cincinnati, in general, has this resurgence of the past decade and there’s an increase in folks who want to return and live in the urban-core,” said James Ondrey, general manager of Uber in Ohio. “All of this stuff is going on…and you need a way to get to where you want it to be, be it games, the bars, restaurants.”
Uber is looking to connect people to these attractions and has noticed that Tri-Staters have also been anticipating the service’s launch.
“Cincinnati, specifically, has been on our radar for a while,” Ondrey said. “One thing that we have to drive a lot of our decisions is data. One of the things we can look at is how many people have downloaded the Uber app and opened it up in Greater Cincinnati.”
Ondrey said the number of app downloads in the Tri-State is strong.
“The ultimate goal is to be able to open the app and see a car (that can give you a ride),” he explained. “The interesting thing about Cincy is this was the first market where, at the start, we actually rolled out two transportation options.”
Finding a ride involves a user opening the app and seeing where the closest car is to them that can pick them up. In Cincinnati, those rides can be more luxurious, with Uber Black, or cost efficient, like UberX.
Uber Black drivers usually have their own chauffeur service and drive luxury vehicles. Their rides cost about 30 to 40 percent more than a taxi ride, Ondrey said.
“For other folks, just keeping costs down you can get around cheaply using UberX,” he said. “You’ll have a driver in a regular everyday car. Typically the base prices are 30 percent less than a taxi. It’s crazy how cheap you can move around at that price.”
UberX drivers typically are not professional drivers; just people looking to share rides and make some extra cash. Still, Ondrey said, they go through extensive background checks and have commercial insurance provided by Uber.
This is a service people want to use, Ondrey said.
“One of the reasons it’s so popular with folks is the traditional pain points you have about taxis--and this is not just Cincinnati--they’re not reliable,” Ondrey said. “I make a call to the company and don’t know when somebody will arrive. And if you’re trying to hail a taxi on the street in busy times, its’ really just a guessing game.”
Companies around the country are taking the carpooling idea to a new level, with apps and websites designed to match people who need a ride with car owners looking to make some extra money.
There's also Rideshare Ohio , run by a consortium of municipal authorities. The free service "allows commuters in Central, Northwest and Southwest Ohio along with Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana to quickly and securely find other individuals who share similar schedules and destinations to share the ride."
Cincinnati residents may have noticed advertisements for Lyft, a ridesharing company that's grabbing attention around the country with the trademark fuzzy pink moustache that adorn cars. Right now, the only Ohio city with Lyft is Columbus.
The company's website describes the service like this:
"Lyft is your friend with a car. Drivers are matched with passengers who request rides through the Lyft iPhone or Android app. Drivers are screened with DMV and background checks, and Lyft's platform has a first-of-its-kind $1M per occurrence excess liability
insurance policy. Once a ride is complete, passengers are prompted to donate seamlessly through the app."
WCPO reached out to a representative from Lyft and found the company is exploring the possibility of starting service in Cincinnati and 19 other cities, but has no definite plans for the Tri-State right now.
The original rideshare: City bus
A tried and true way to get around town, as the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority totes, is a Metro bus.
“I think nationally we’re seeing young professionals wanting public transportation and wanting to avoid the expense of a car,” said Jill Dunne, public affairs manager with Metro.
Metro's number show that almost 30 percent of its riders are between the ages of 25 to 40.
“We know that downtown, including Over-The-Rhine, are some of the most popular areas people want to go to,” Dunne said, adding that Metro's provide rides to downtown and OTR. “Our second most popular areas are the University of Cincinnati and Uptown area.”
Students make up about 16 percent of the riders and full-time workers make up nearly 60 percent of those taking the bus, according to Metro’s numbers.
“We have new hub in development up in the Clifton/Uptown area,” Dunne said.
With more people trying to get to attractions like The Banks and restaurants in Over-the-Rhine, Metro is adapting and changing schedules each quarter.
One example of that is the Metro*Plus line, that connects people in Kenwood to the Clifton/Uptown area and from there, downtown.
“Having the Metro*Plus go al the way to The Banks is a great way to get people to all those great restaurants at The Banks,” Dunne said. “Metro*Plus has been a success so far.”
Dunne said she hopes services like Uber find success in Cincinnati, too.
“I’ve certainly seen an increase (in Metro ridership) over the past few years, it’s becoming more mainstream with people trying to get away from the expense and hassle of cars,” she said. “Uber and Lyft, I think those would be good options. We are supportive of anything that gets people to look at alternatives to the car.”
Connect with WCPO community manager Libby Cunningham on Twitter: @WCPOLibby