Smile Politely

Uber awesome

One of the benefits of living near Downtown Champaign is the proximity within which almost every popular bar and restaurant in the city is located. It takes no more than 10 minutes to walk from Seven Saints to Dublin O’Neil’s and, honestly, that’s being generous. Bar hopping takes little more effort than just tracking down your server or bartender to close your tab. It’s part of the allure of this place, isn’t it? Everything is so close, you can get your fill with relatively little activity being tracked on your FitBit.

If you live close to Downtown Champaign, this is heaven. Your night on the town can be vehicle-less. You can walk five or six blocks to Downtown (even in this frigid winter), without really giving any other mode of transportation a second thought.

But, if you don’t live near Downtown Champaign, or if you live in Savoy, or if you live in Urbana, or if you want to go to Bunny’s to start your night and then head back to Downtown Champaign — you’ve got some serious choices to make about how you travel. Walking isn’t really an option (unless you’re interested in making plans for the following week and you get started immediately). CUMTD does a pretty good job of being on time to bus stops but it’s still not the most convenient option for many. That leaves us with driving for a night out which, if you’re not imbibing, is perfectly fine but a dangerous and illegal choice for those who choose to drink. Or it leaves us with taxi cabs.

Cab services in Champaign are woefully inadequate. That’s about as nice of a description as I can come up with, honestly. Of course there are drivers that do a well-enough job and are polite. But those are things that shouldn’t get cab drivers kudos, really. It’s a service industry and they expect tips; being cordial and getting passengers to their destination safely is what’s expected. But they celebrate those things like a defensive lineman celebrating a sack. It’s your job to do that, folks.

Those aren’t the really major gripes with cab service in town, though. The main issue is that it’s nearly impossible to request one, and should you get a hold of someone the wait time is usually well over 30 minutes. It’s simply unacceptable. I called four cab companies at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning looking to get a ride home from Downtown Champaign. Not one of them answered. It was 10 degrees outside and had this been after the bars closed, my party would have been scrambling to get out of downtown in frigid temperatures. 

At the very least, have someone to tell me “It will be (x) amount of minutes until we can get a cab for you.” That’s cool, I’ll go eat at Merry Ann’s and wait. Or I’ll get another drink before last call.

It’s unreasonable to expect that a cab just show up instantaneously upon calling for one, but just some human interaction at a time when people are figuring out how to get home would go a long way.

That’s why Champaign-Urbana is lucky to welcome Uber to town. For those that are unaware, Uber is an app-based transportation network, or ride sharing app, that finds people rides. Mark C. Palmer has a really good writeup on the details of Uber in Champaign.

Rides are cheap (for the most part, there are certain periods of time where Uber introduces surge pricing —  but users agree to the fee), drivers are sourced locally using their own vehicles (that are required to be new-ish and inspected), and you know exactly when and where your driver is going to pick you up.

After success in Chicago and Springfield, the ride-sharing heavyweight just expanded into six new cities, including the Champaign-Urbana area. The app is downloadable on all smartphones and they currently have drivers available. The assumption is that college students and local residents (that pass a background check) looking for extra cash will primarily be Uber’s drivers in C-U. It’s expected that the Uber army in this area will continue to expand as Uber becomes more widely used.

So, yes, this is great. Uber will give residents another option for transportation when planning a night on the town or looking to travel to Willard Airport without parking. But even more than that, this is a great step for an area that is drawing in hipper and more tech-friendly businesses.

The benefits of Uber are not without issues, however. Uber’s been accused of cutting rates so low that drivers are very negatively affected, of systematically sabotaging their competition, and other issues. Some see Uber as an evil empire, and that’s certainly a valid criticism. However, I’m typing on a Macbook Pro, I’m checking my iPhone, I’m watching WWE Network on my Samsung TV, and I just filled up my American-made automobile with gasoline that’s from BP. Ideally, I’d like to not support any companies that treat employees poorly or have bad business practices, but that’s just not possible (or I’m just unwilling to make those changes and sacrifices).

Transportation surrounding events in this community is not going to ever be perfect, but it is already much, much more appealing.

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