Uber finds success in Champaign-Urbana

By Jane Lee

Since the launch of uberX services in Champaign-Urbana last week, the number of local users has taken off.

While no official number has been released, Chris Taylor, managing director of Uber Illinois, said the number of people requesting the app-based taxi service is rising quickly.

“I can tell you that the business in Champaign is going really well,” Taylor said.

Taylor said there were initially about a dozen Uber drivers in Champaign-Urbana though he expects the number to rise. Generally, drivers are parents who have extra time, students or others who drive part-time, he said.

Statistics on the number of student drivers could not be released.

“(A Driver) might be someone who is in between jobs or a student during a break who wants to get out there and earn some extra cash to pay off for loans,” Taylor said.

With Uber in town, there are more transportation options available for the community, but there is also a possible economic impact on other transportation companies.

Elizabeth Beaty, administrative services manager in the finance department of the City of Urbana, said the city is working with Champaign on how Uber would fit in with the current reciprocal vehicle for hire license code and how it would be licensed.

“Currently, we are working together to come up with a way to see how we would incorporate transportation network companies like Uber into our current code of ordinances,” she said.

Beaty said any company like Uber would certainly be a direct competition to other transportation services. However, she said the cities of Urbana and Champaign will likely hold a meeting for public comment from vehicle for hire companies to discuss their concerns.

Taylor said Uber Illinois has a call scheduled this week with law enforcement within Champaign-Urbana to discuss how to avoid accidents and ensure safety.

“Our whole purpose of doing that is making sure we have good passive communication with law enforcement. That way in case there are complaints or reported incidents, or anything to work with, we can help them as quickly as possible,” Taylor said. “Uber takes the safety of its riders and drivers very, very seriously and when we are met with issues that we need to deal with law enforcement, we’re really, really happy to help provide data.”

One feature of the app allows Uber to know who the driver and passenger is, which the company is able to trace through GPS.

Taylor said the data is protected very closely to protect user’s privacy. The main use of this feature is to provide immediate assistance if an incident may occur, which builds a safer experience.

“Once you order an Uber, the app gives you the driver’s name, picture, license plate number and car type and model, so it’s always important to check and make sure you get into the right vehicle,” said Amanda Basalaj, freshman in LAS at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Uber serves a number of other Illinois cities near college campuses. Taylor mentioned Chicago, which includes the University of Chicago, DePaul University and Kendall College. Evanston and the newly added cities of Aurora, Bloomington-Normal and Rockford are near universities such as Northwestern, Aurora University and Illinois State University.

Basalaj said the Uber drivers in Champaign were “unbelievably nice” compared to the drivers she has experienced in downtown Chicago. She added that using Uber is worthwhile because it is cheaper than using a taxi service and prevents students from walking in the cold or too late at night alone.

“There’s a lot of time where college students don’t have cars and they’re all out and about,” Taylor said. “They need to get to class, maybe they want to go out on a weekend, but they want a safe ride home, and they don’t necessarily want to walk back late at night and Uber’s really something that fits their needs very well.”

Jane can be reached at [email protected]