Ridesharing in the Southern Tier: Boom or Bust?

Local News

On June 29th, a new wave of transportation was upon us. Ridesharing services, like Uber and Lyft, finally launched across Upstate, New York. In its initial months, the community has shown mixed emotions about the newly available service. 

“When I heard it was coming Upstate, I thought ‘this will be interesting,’ because usually smaller venues, like us, never get the opportunity to do some things different, then someone calling for a taxi cab,” Chemung County Executive, Tom Santulli said. 

“Before Uber arrived, you had very limited options for transportation,” frequent Uber user, Mike Horan said. “You obviously have the bus or a cab. That’s really about it.”

How does it work? Consumers install the application on their smart phone, attach a form of electronic payment through a credit or debit card, and request a ride at a moments notice.

“It’s a great alternative to cabs or other sorts of public transportation,” Horan said. “It’s very safe. You get the driver’s information including a picture, the car information, contact information ahead of time. From a safety perspective, you know Uber vets all the drivers with a criminal background check.”

It’s safe, it’s reliable, and most of all, it’s easy.

Ridesharing also brings competition to the pre-existing forms of transportation. This can cause a rise in customer service and a drop in pricing.

“So, the best thing you can do when someone comes to the area with a new service is to compete with it,” Santulli said. “I think we benefit from a lot of different respects, in that we’ll watch taxi services I think to be a little more ‘on spot.’ I’ve heard they’re also looking at apps and how their services may be delivered.”

“People on my staff who are working with me, they believe that an app would be well accepted here in Elmira,” Owner of Ithaca Dispatch Inc. and Total Transportation of Elmira, John Kadar said. “So, we are playing around with the idea of adding it.”

However, since launching last summer, ridesharing has been met with mixed emotions in our area. Even though the concept is intriguing, the ride is safe, and prices are relatively competitive and affordable, the demand just isn’t there. 

“It is frustrating, especially when you have quite a bit of Uber drivers here but not enough of a customer base,” Uber driver, Robert Vanderpool said. “Right now, we don’t need any more Uber drivers. We just need to pick up the customer base. It’s difficult because most of this city is low on income families.”

“The larger the city, the wealthier the city, the more dense the population is, the more likely that that type of ridesharing service will be successful,” Kadar said. 

According to DMR Business Analytics, Uber adds over 50,000 drivers monthly and provides over one million rides in its 450 cities across the nation. It’s popularity is evident. 

But, since much of the Southern Tier consists of rural lands, moderately sized cities, and financial inconsistencies, Uber drivers are forced to look elsewhere for business.

“It’s not a very large contingency of drivers and it’s a fairly large area,” Kadar said. “At any given time, two or three are active on the platform. Most of them are from Horseheads and some in Elmira, who on a daily basis and especially weekend nights, go up to Ithaca because there is simply not enough money to be made here for them.”

Kadar and Vanderpool believe our area’s demographic doesn’t fit the description of a successful ridesharing destination.

“It’s a different population,” Kadar said. “It’s a somewhat poorer population. Bank accounts are ‘iffy.’ Yes, a lot of people have smart phones, but we have not had that demand, we haven’t felt it. Where as in where as in Ithaca, people were asking two years ago, ‘when are we going to have an app?'”

“It’s pretty difficult,” Vanderpool said. “You would think it would be used more, especially if it is a new thing. It’s just more low income families are what hurts us in this area.”

Given that ridesharing has only been available for four months, there is still time to see an increase in popularity.

Ultimately, many believe it’s a depressed economy and lack of thriving industry throughout the surrounding Elmira area, that could send ridesharing services down a rocky road in the future. 

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