After popping up in neighboring towns, is Lebanon next to get Uber?
Uber, the International ridesharing service, is fast on its way to becoming the new "Starbucks."
With new locations recently launched in Reading, Lancaster and York, Uber also resembles Starbucks in that there is no such service in Lebanon.
Uber is the app-based taxi service that has taken the world by storm, and currently serves 300 cities worldwide, in 50 countries, and across the United States.
Founded in 2009 by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, after the two couldn't get a taxi, the idea has spread like wildfire and went international in 2012.
In Frank Capra's film "It Happened One Night," Claudette Colbert coyly lifts her skirt to get a taxi — but things have sure changed since 1934 — and now all you have to do is tap your mobile phone and presto, a car and driver will appear.
When a new site in Erie was launched Thursday, it gave Uber accessibility to 77 percent of Pennsylvania's population, according to Jon Feldman, general manger of Uber in Pennsylvania.
"We're excited that there's so much interest and excited to be able to expand into the (south central PA) area," Feldman said. "The demand there is constantly increasing."
Feldman, in a phone call from New York, said while the company has no specific timetable to launch in Lebanon, he is confident that day will come, especially since the region continues to expand with a demand for more services.
"We're growing as quickly as we can and reaching as many people as we can, and we hear that people would like us in this area," Feldman said. "Our goal is to offer a reliable ride at the push of a button. Literally, within minutes, your ride will be there. "
Harrisburg's Uber coverage began this past January. At that time, Feldman said, the wait time for a ride was seven minutes. That has now been whittled down to five minutes, 40 seconds.
"We want to keep going for shorter and shorter wait times," Feldman said.
The Uber ridesharing service offers customers a clean, safe, reliable ride within minutes for about 20 percent less than the cost of a traditional taxi, Feldman said.
Before deciding to launch in a particular city, many factors are examined, including the size of the city and perceived need for the service, Feldman said.
Also, before they launch, Uber has to have a certain number of people signed up to be Uber drivers, he said.
"Every week, across Pennsylvania, thousands of people sign up to be drivers," Feldman said.
Drivers use their own vehicles and can choose to work when they want, Feldman said. The drivers are independent contractors.
All payments are made through credit cards and the drivers get 20 percent of their earnings. Drivers do not get tips.
That the drivers don't have to carry cash makes their job a little safer. Passengers pay by credit card when they register to ride and when they arrive at their destination, the fare is automatically charged to their card.
Responding to concerns about safety and reputable drivers, Feldman said the background check their drivers undergo is more comprehensive than many taxi companies.
"In the state of Pennsylvania, our background checks are far more stringent than taxi companies, which only look back three years," Feldman said. "We look back seven years and we do county, multi-state and federal background checks. We also do sex offender checks and Social Security traces. We have zero-degree tolerance for DUIs."
In fact, Feldman said, it has been proven that, where Uber has come in, alcohol-related accidents have decreased. The company also partnered with "Mothers Against Drunk Driving" for a safety campaign.
"We find a lot of our demand is on weekends and at night, including 1 or 2 a.m., when people are going home from bars," Feldman said. "And in places where there is no late night mass transit, they now find themselves with another option. DUIs have decreased because this is a very reliable alternative to drinking and driving."
"This is definitely an area we're proud of; we can make a positive impact by making the community safer," he added.
Use of the Uber ride does expand the list of possibilities, and a safe ride home for the inebriated is just one of them.
If you want to leave a party and the friends you came with, don't, just do that app.
If your date goes sour and you need a ride, haul out your phone.
Too many people to climb in mom's car for the family reunion? Call Uber.
But 14-year-olds whose parents forget to pick them up after soccer practice will still have to call home: you have to be age 18 or older to use the Uber service.
Prices vary, and are also based on the type of vehicle a passenger requests, but generally speaking, the base rate is $2, plus 25 cents per minute and $1.75 per mile. Riders will know the approximate price of the ride before they start their trip.
If you choose to cancel your ride, you'll be charged $10.
"There's no more calling hours ahead of time and wondering if your taxi will show up, and calling the dispatcher again," Feldman said. "You can see on the map (on your phone) when the driver is coming towards you, so there's no anxiety about when they'll show up. An additional level of safety is that you know who's going to be driving you - their name, picture, license number comes up."
Drivers can't see the destination until they pick up the rider, Feldman said. In the past, some taxi drivers didn't want to take people to certain neighborhoods, or drive too far, Feldman said, and Uber doesn't want that to happen with its customers.
Another part of the app is that there is a place for comments; a rider can leave a complaint or a compliment.
A "24/7" support team will review the comments and if need be, remove the driver from the "platform," Feldman said.
Drivers can rate riders, too.
"It's a two-way rating system, increasing safety, security and politeness for both," Feldman said.
After signing in and downloading the app, customers get to pick the vehicle they want, from five types: the basic 'black car,' a high-end sedan which will seat up to four people; a taxi, like a "normal" taxi, except you pay via the credit card; UberX, the budget option; SUV, which is more expensive and seats up to six people; and LUX, the most expensive option, a luxury car that also seats up to four.
Uber's website states they are "changing the way the world moves," and they're not wrong. If you need a ride, check it out. If you have safety concerns, bring a friend.