I must not be hip enough, or tech-savvy enough, or just plain not with it enough to ever think about Uber.
I’m familiar with the ride-sharing service, of course. I have friends and relatives who’ve used the service, of course. And, truthfully, I’ve always had a desire to use the service. But not because it’s uber cool and uber convenient.
No, I’ve always wanted to take a spin with Uber because I’ve always wondered about who signs up to be an Uber driver, and why.
So, with the second anniversary of Uber’s arrival in Tulsa just around the corner, the ride-sharing program agreed to allow The Frontier to take a few trips and record our experiences.
It was great.
Michael Matthews, a retired electrical engineer, drove my colleague Dylan Goforth and me from my home in east Tulsa to a Walmart in Broken Arrow. Matthews’ Nissan Versa was immaculate, and Matthews, as you will see in the video, could not have been nicer. He’s been driving since December 2014.
“All I was doing was sitting at home watching CNN, getting cynical,” Matthews said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to get out and do something.'”
Matthews learned about Uber from his son. The job hasn’t made him rich, but it has kept him occupied and, on occasion, entertained.
He typically works 30 hours a week, sometimes more. Always during the day.
Jann Lucas, a 54-year-old mother and part-time videographer, was our driver on our trip home.
She said decided to become an Uber driver because she wanted to make a little extra money. Lucas is a natural talker, which can be a plus if your job is driving strangers around.
She’s funny, too. Ask, and she’ll regale you with stories from her nights behind the wheel of her silver Toyota RAV4.
Like the time she took a party of young people through the drive-thru at McDonald’s only to find out that it was cash only — and the youngins didn’t have any cash.
“It was after the bars closed,” she said. “So we just had to take them all home.”
Or when she picked up a gentleman in his 80s who asked her to stop at a couple of other homes in the neighborhood to pick up a couple of lady friends. And off they went for a dinner at McGill’s.
Becoming an Uber driver is not complicated unless your life is. Prospective drivers must fill out an application online and are subject to an extensive background check. Pass, and you can drive.
Uber and its partners divvy up the fare, with the driver typically receiving 75 percent to 80 percent.
There is no paperwork for Uber drivers. All ride records are sent directly to Uber through the app on the driver’s phone. At the end of each week, Uber wires its partners’ pay into their bank accounts.
“It’s real simple,” Lucas said.
Uber spokeswoman Lauren Altmin said the ride-share program has been a hit in Tulsa, with thousands of people taking advantage since the first ride on March 27, 2014. The company also serves Oklahoma City and Stillwater.
“It’s really been fantastic,” she said. “(Tulsa) is a very unique market because of the demand. “That is the first time we really saw a grassroots effort to bring us to a town sooner than we had expected.”
Tulsans can thank Tulsa’s Young Professionals, commonly known as TYPros, for getting the ride-share service to come to town earlier than it had planned
“They reached out to us,” Altmin said. “It really got us thinking and moving our operation faster and faster because we knew there was a demand there.”
Ryan McDaniel was a part of the TYPros “Bring It To Tulsa” campaign that helped land Uber.
Fresh off its success in attracting Trader Joe’s to the market, McDaniel said, Typros began looking for ways to expand transportation options in the city — an issue of great importance to its members.
“Anything that is me not having to have my own car,” McDaniel said.
In early 2014, TYPros came up with a simple and highly effective plan to grab Uber’s attention: a social media campaign that encouraged people to download the Uber app and try to request a ride.
In no time, Uber was calling TYPros. And within three months, the company was up and running in town.
“I think it’s been extremely successful in terms of a cultural shift,” said McDaniel, 30.
Prior to the ride-share company coming to town, many young people either chose not to go out and risk driving after drinking, or they went out anyway. Uber and companies like it have provided a smarter option, McDaniel said.
Now “it is really hard to find people in my peer group — even going a mile or down the road —driving when they might have a drink or two,” McDaniel said.
There has been a surprising twist to the story, too. McDaniel said he’s seen the service become popular with older generations, not exactly the target audience TYPros had in mind when it launched its “Bring It To Tulsa” campaign.
Tulsa isn’t the only city that’s taken to Uber. As of December, the company served 361 cities in 67 countries on six continents, Altmin said.
The company’s offering services is growing, too. UberPOOL allows customers headed to the same location to reduce their fares by sharing the ride with other people headed to the same destination.
UberEAT is a food delivery service. and UberRUSH is the company’s foray into the product- delivery business.
If you need a package delivered across town, now you can now use UberRUSH — at least in some cities — and a driver will come pick up the package and deliver it.
None of these services is available in Tulsa — yet.
But who knows? Two years ago, who would have thought Uber was coming to town?