Uber X, the ride-hailing platform that allows everyday drivers to rent seats in their cars to paying customers, announced yesterday that six months after (illegally) launching in Philadelphia, their 10,000 "driver-partners" have already given one million rides to over 455,000 people.
The digital dispatching system allows the company to collect lots of data on all these trips, and to commemorate the 1 million ride mark, they've released some stylized facts on their blog about their impact on the city thus far.
Since the service launched in October, uberX says over 6,000 Philadelphians have made money driving a passenger in the past 6 months, and 1,000 new drivers have been accessing the platform every month. Philadelphia drivers have made over $9 million since October, and the company projects they'll pay drivers over $50 million by the end of 2015.
"We've seen a pent-up demand for low-cost, reliable, safe rides, and the Philly market has performed even beyond our wildest expectations as far as how many people in Philadelphia were looking for other ways to get around," says Uber Philly general manager, Jon Feldman.
The economic impact of Uber has been a hotly contested political issue. The company has taken fire from some activists on the left who lament Uber's contribution to the rise of the independent contractor economy, which they say undermines economic policies like minimum wages and earned sick leave that only apply to actual employees of companies, which UberX drivers are not. To be fair, that same critique applies to Philadelphia's traditional taxi companies too.
Uber's response is that their service is creating work for people who need money and more flexible working hours at a time when local job growth has been weak. In Philly, over one-third of uberX drivers come from zip codes with unemployment rates over than 9%. As Vox's Timothy Lee found out driving for a week in Washington, DC for uberX's competitor Lyft, the ride-hailing gig is not easy and it can be difficult to make a predictable amount of money per day, though that's also true for traditional cab drivers.
Feldman says there are advantages to driving for uberX over traditional cabs though.
"Our drivers like the flexibility," he said in a phone interview, "They don't start the week in debt because of the medallion [rental payment], and have flexibility to connect with friends and family. They get riders who are friendlier because there's a user rating system built into the app, and they feel safer because they're not carrying cash."
On the customer side, the company found 19% of uberX trips in February started or ended in traditionally underserved neighborhoods. They also think they've delivered on their promise of higher service quality. In Philadelphia County, the company says 91% of their hails since October arrived within 10 minutes, and half arrived within 4 minutes.
Feldman confirmed the underserved neighborhoods include Fairmount, Brewerytown, Francisville, Point Breeze, Gray's Ferry, Mantua, Oxford Circle, Kensington, Port Richmond, Hunting Park, Allegheny, West Passyunk, Kingsessing, Cedar Park, Fishtown, and Southwest Philly.
These numbers apply to the uberX service that launched this fall, but Uber has actually been operating Philly since 2012, with their black car service. The black cars are technically regulated as limousines, so they've been unencumbered by the taxi medallion politics that have bedeviled the cheaper ride-hailing apps, which the Philadelphia Parking Authority considers illegal hack cabs. So far, they've impounded about four dozen cars from uberX and Lyft drivers.
During that time, Uber claims to have had some impact on reducing the number of DUIs, by increasing the number of convenient alternatives to drunk driving. They point out that ride requests correlate with the peak hours for DUI fatalities, between 11pm - 3am on weekends, and that over 53% of uberX trips originated in areas with the highest concentrations of bars. Since they launched in 2012, the number of annual DUI arrests in Philadelphia decreased by 11.5%.
PlanPhilly transportation reporter Jim Saksa took a look at this issue last summer and found a slight correlation. Uber released a company report on the national numbers, co-signed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, claiming ride-hailing has made a significant impact on DUIs. ProPublica had a highly skeptical take on that report, though it seems intuitive that more convenient late-night alternatives to driving oneself would tend to reduce drunk driving.
The state Public Utility Commission has legalized ride-hailing services everywhere outside of Philadelphia County, leaving local taxi regulations up to the PPA. The PPA shows no signs of letting up on their crackdown on ride-hailing drivers though, with PPA director Vince Fenerty telling our colleague Tom MacDonald a few weeks ago that they'll continue to impound vehicles "until there is a change in the statute in Harrisburg."
Sources say a bill establishing statewide regulations is set to be introduced in Harrisburg next week.
Feldman is hoping any bill will apply the PUC's rules for the rest of the state to Philadelphia, despite the existence of the medallion system here.
"We are certainly in support of regulations, but they need to be the same statewide," he says, "When people take trips from Allentown to Philly, or New Jersey to Philly, having the same regulations and not treating Philly differently is what makes the most sense for drivers and for riders."