Uber rolls into town; cab drivers not happy

Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The popular Uber ride-sharing program rolled out in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo Thursday.

“Uber is a ride-sharing service. You can compare it to a taxi service, but it’s basically like having your own personal driver,” Sarah Freeman, an Uber driver, explained.

To get an Uber driver, those looking for a ride need to download the app and register using their name, cellphone number, email address and credit card information.

Once registered users just request a ride, a nearby Uber driver is notified and decides if they want to give the ride. Just like riders can rate drivers, drivers can rate their passengers.

“You can see who you’re picking up before you commit to give them a ride. If you see a rider that maybe has a two out of five stars and the drivers are saying they’re rude, they’re disrespectful, they leave a mess. You can decline those requests,” Freeman said.

Freeman said the process to become a driver is extensive.

“You go through a background check that they independently run,” she said. “They check not only your driving record, insurance record, criminal record, everything. If there are any red flags you are not authorized to drive.”

She said Uber provides her with the necessary insurance she needs in case anything should happen to her, her passengers or her car.

Uber drivers also don’t have to pay anything to become a driver.

It’s those two elements that has everyday taxi cab drivers not so happy.

“The drivers for Uber are basically, they may be out to do it for the fun of it, but they are taking bread off the table,” said independant cab driver Dennis Gammon.

Gammon runs and drives for West Michigan Rides. 

He said he pays about $7,000 a year for the correct insurance. He said he doesn’t pick up passengers in the city because he would have to pay a $275 licensing fee — something Uber drivers do not need.

“I’m just trying to make a living doing what I enjoy doing, and it makes it hard and hard to do that when you’re not playing by the same rules,” Gammon said.

24 Hour News 8 reached out to the city clerk to ask if Uber drivers may someday have to pay that same fee, but did not hear back.

The city attorney says the city doesn’t yet have an opinion on the service, but believes the city clerk is studying the issue.

“I do understand to an extent for taxis and things like that to be upset, but it’s the current times. There’s a reason a company like Uber has come around. They rely on more the service aspect,” Freeman said.

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