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Where have all the Ubers gone?

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Posted at 6:01 AM, Mar 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-06 08:58:55-05

CINCINNATI -- There are rumblings of an Uber driver shortage in Cincinnati.

“I can certainly tell you that we’re always looking for drivers who are interested in joining and partnering with Uber,” said Lauren Altmin, spokesperson for Uber in central North America, including Greater Cincinnati. “Our growth has continued since we launched operations in the city of Cincinnati.”

Posts like this one from an Uber-based forum would seem to indicate otherwise, though. Also, rates were decreased in January, meaning drivers are getting paid less.

“I’ve gotten feedback from other drivers in the area, and they’ve complained they are not making as much because there are ‘too many drivers’ out there,” said Elizabeth Burnett, who was an Uber driver from March to August of 2015.

David Hartigan, who drives for Uber, Lyft, and Drivr, said he feels there are as many drivers available as there have ever been, but he has seen some habits change lately. “A lot of drivers are driving less. A majority are only coming out when it’s busy,” he said.

Hartigan himself went from driving 80 hours per week to around 40, but he said there are benefits to that. “I’m making more now just working select times. It’s a matter of working smarter, not harder, and it’s been a win-win.”

In obtaining feedback from fellow Uber drivers, Burnett said she felt she received fewer requests the last few times she drove. She said she heard several fellow Uber drivers complain they aren’t as busy because there are too many people signed up. One driver she spoke with said that even the bonus for referring other drivers to Uber is down to $100.

“It just isn’t worth it,” she said, “because that decreases your chances of making good money, especially during the weekends.”

Hartigan refutes that.

“You’re self-employed,” he said. “If you’re not used to that, you get into a routine.

“I feel like Uber gives you the ability to make money, but it’s up to you to make it,” he said. “If you don’t treat this as a business, you’re going to starve.”

Whether or not this is true of all online taxi services is hard to say. A Lyft representative said the company doesn’t release city-specific numbers. Cincinnati-based Drivr, which uses Tesla electric vehicles, operates a bit differently; it’s appointment driven, while app-based Uber and Lyft are for more impromptu trips.

“We’re adequately staffed, but we’re a little different in that our drivers are employees. They aren’t contracted,” said Jared Williams of Drivr.

A common complaint with ridesharing services is surge pricing, which takes place when there are many demands for rides in the same area. It gets turned on to draw drivers into an area, but it also drives up prices for riders. Uber and Lyft users already pay by both the mile and the minute, and they aren’t always aware of surge pricing.

Surge pricing is sometimes used to steer drivers to a certain area, Hartigan said, but he has had more success by doing his own thing.

“I’m being more methodical in the hours I work and the hours I work,” he said. “I don’t really chase surges, because it affects your rating.”

By comparison, said Drivr’s Williams, “With us, you pay before the ride. There are no surprises.”

Still, Hartigan said he believes in what he’s doing.

“I feel privileged to work for a company where I can work my own hours and I’m able to make my own decisions on where to go and what to do.”

At the end of the day — or night — it sounds like Tri-State riders will still be able to get rides. It just might take a bit more forethought.

Get on board

Both Lyft and Uber offer on-demand ridesharing through smartphone apps. Drivr also uses apps to hire rides, but it is designed more for riders who can book farther in advance. Read more about and download the apps from these links.