The occasion coincided with the quiet rollout of Uber here in our city. Uber, as we’re sure you’re aware, is among the hottest trends in technological transportation facilitation. James Ondrey, Uber’s general manager in Ohio, is a Cleveland native and he believes this town is ideal for the Uber model. We can only imagine it’ll be simpler than waiting while the Red Line stalls somewhere above the Flats.
Here’s the gist, for the uninitiated: You order up a driver through the Uber app, choosing from a short menu of choices that includes Uber Black and UberX (the former is fairly luxury-class and piloted by commissioned limo drivers; the latter is a less expensive ride-sharing option helmed mostly by people around town looking to make some side income). Once you’ve established your whereabouts on the screen, you can watch the driver head your way via GPS in the app. It’s generally much quicker than waiting for a taxi (taxis in Cleveland being a mostly absurd notion). And payment? You’re billed online via a credit card on file.
“I think that whole experience, you know, for many people the first time they do it is kind of magical - just based on the old way of hailing down transportation,” Ondrey says.
Ondrey says that Clevelanders have opened the app in anticipation of seeing their city more frequently than in any other neighboring market. This week, local Uberheads will finally get their fix.
But Uber, already booming in bigger cities across the U.S., does come with a paper trail of controversial headlines. Most notably, customers have taken aim at Uber’s penchant for surge pricing during bouts of, say, inclement weather or otherwise heightened demand. Elsewhere on the dial, the company has taken heat for a steady drumbeat of sexual harassment claims, highlighted recently by Olivia Nuzzi at The Daily Beast.
“There’s a very stringent background check process,” Ondrey says of UberX drivers, adding that checks are done quarterly. Drivers aren’t employed by Uber; rather they’re essentially contractors who have been approved to use the Uber network. Ondrey adds that the company has instituted a zero-tolerance policy for anything remotely bordering on harassment in the car. He encourages all riders to touch base within the app’s feedback loop.
Watch out this weekend for all sorts of overeager passengers screaming “I love this app!” out their windows as the car flies by.