Uber Rolls Into Bellingham, WA
There’s something subtly powerful about being able to request a ride in a sleek black sedan with a single button push on your smartphone. The experience seems akin to what a CEO might feel when summoning their company limo. Since 2009, Uber has been making that experience available to regular people around the globe through the Uber ride app.
Starting in November, Uber will be bringing it to Bellingham as well. *Please see the note at the end of this article for an update regarding the planned expansion.
How It Works
The basic function of Uber as a company is to provide a convenient connection between riders who want to avoid expensive taxis, and independent drivers looking to make more money. When Uber enters a city, they put out a call for driver applications. If a potential driver provides satisfactory background information and documentation, they are provided with a smartphone pre-loaded with the Uber app. The driver then becomes an independent contractor, making their own schedule, and driving their own vehicle.
The appeal for consumers is straightforward; Uber charges less than a taxi, is cash-free (you pay with your phone), allows you track your car by GPS before it picks you up, and gives you details on the driver and vehicle beforehand. Customers can also contact the driver en-route to their location, get a price quote before requesting a ride, and leave feedback on the trip via the app. The app even provides onboard fare splitting service, charging each rider equally, so long as everyone opts into that specific ride. It doesn’t hurt that the rides are usually pretty stylish as well. Uber has tiers of vehicles you can request, from everyday cars to luxury sedans.
While the convenience and pricing of Uber’s service has brought the company exponential success, it hasn’t been without controversy. Competing businesses, especially traditional taxis, have brought lawsuits against Uber all over the world. According to a recent Forbes article, the company is currently facing litigation in Germany, Spain, India, Brazil, and Canada, as well as in several U.S. cities. The most common complaint is that the service is unregulated, granting Uber an unfair advantage and making it potentially more dangerous than traditional private transportation services.
Despite the legal conflicts, Uber isn’t having any problems finding investment capital. After raising fresh investment funds in June, the company was valued at $18.2 billion, making it the most valuable startup in the world after Facebook. Whether or not the value is accurate will likely come down to court decisions and whether or not Uber can compete with the taxi lobby. In the meantime, Wall Street has clearly put its faith in the startup.
The Local Scene
Uber coming to Bellingham could be a mixed bag as well. Hiring drivers will certainly grant a small uptick in local employment, and consumers will now have a cheaper alternative to local taxi services. If the app is successful enough in the local community to significantly impact the market for those services, however, Bellingham may have its own legal battles in the future. Whether the end result will be what’s best for Bellingham residents remains to be seen. So what do you think? Will Uber do well here in Bellingham? Or will regulation prevent this innovative company from disrupting a century-long industry? Let us know in the poll below.
*Edit: Since this article was published, Uber has dialed back their plans to expand into Bellingham. The service is currently not operating here, although there has been no official statement on whether they plan to cancel their expansion into the region.