By KELCI McKENDRICK
Getting into a car with a stranger after a night of partying is one thing Moms everywhere probably never wanted their kids to do, but it’s becoming a safer trend in college towns across America.
For most college students, Uber and Lyft are a fast, safe way for them to get home from wherever they are. Other students without vehicles have a quick, easy way to get to Walmart for shopping or to a restaurant to meet with a friend.
“(Uber and Lyft) offer a safer opportunity for especially people who do drink a lot because you can’t always depend on the (designated driver) or you may not be able to find one,” said Cheyenne Wiley, a psychology junior at the University of Oklahoma who uses Uber or Lyft around three times a month. “ It’s safer than drinking and driving.”
Wiley doesn’t own a vehicle in Norman and said she’s increased using Uber and Lyft this year than during her first two years at OU because she goes out a lot more. Her friend group has gotten smaller, so she said she can’t always depend on them for rides like she can with reasonably-priced Uber.
Lili Escandon is another Uber rider who said she uses Uber around four times a month and a lot more around finals week when her friends are busy.
“I don’t have a car,” Escandon said. “Sometimes I have to go grocery shopping … and when I don’t have any friends to take me, the only option I do have is Uber. Because this is such a college town, it’s not too expensive.”
Escandon said she and some of her friends from freshman year didn’t bring their vehicles from their hometowns because parking is an issue on campus. She also said she appreciates having the services there to avoid drinking and driving in Norman.
In Norman, Uber and Lyft are on the rise as a main way of transportation students at the University of Oklahoma and other Norman citizens.
The concept of these companies is similar to taxis. However, services like Uber and Lyft are cost-reducing for riders and help people earn extra income.
“(Uber and Lyft) are reasonably-priced, so it’s easy, and you only have to pay for one way,” Wiley said. “If you have a friend who can take you back home, you don’t have to pay for a round-trip.”
Aili Johnson is a Lyft driver with an anxiety disorder. Driving with Lyft allows her to work in an environment she is comfortable in.
“It’s hard to find jobs,” Johnson said. “A lot of places that are hiring typically have stuff where you have to be doing 100 things at once … which would probably cause me to have a panic attack … It just took forever to find a job where it wouldn’t be so bad.”
Johnson also said one benefit to Uber and Lyft compared to taxis is having the destination already in place. She said this allows riders who are mute to avoid the hassle of communication with drivers.
Phil Rulls is an Uber driver who has been driving for almost a year and almost has 3,000 rides. With a 4.77 rating on the app, Rulls said driving for Uber is a great way for him to earn an income while he’s applying for physical therapy schools at OU and Langston University after graduating from both OU and Oklahoma City Community College.
Rulls also said he believes Uber and Lyft will push taxis out in the future due to Uber and Lyft being cheaper.
“Why pay $100 to go to the airport when you could get an Uber for $40 to get to the same place?” Rulls said.
In the years since Uber first arrived, its sales have increased. Uber alone has 3 millions drivers and 75 million riders, with about 15 million trips completed each day.
According to an Uber Newsroom article, a study found that “Uber is adding substantial (and measurable) value to people’s lives.” Uber contributes $17 billion to the U.S. economy. Uber saves time and money, and a report from Uber states 33 percent of Uber riders pay for car parking less often.
In 2013, Uber and Lyft began specifically targeting colleges and universities. Uber offered promotional deals and visited campuses such as MIT and Boston University during orientation week. The company also partnered with Chegg to place a new rider gift card in textbook shipments.
Lyft joined in on that movement, partnering with universities and greek organizations in Los Angeles and Boston to provide rides to students.
Although Uber and Lyft are competing companies, the two are on the rise and are making their riders safer. Both companies do background checks on drivers and have requirements on vehicles. The Uber app also has features to share location with a friend and, in the event of a crash, to make sure the rider is OK and gets help quickly.
Uber is a San Francisco-based company that launched in 2011. It came to Oklahoma City in 2013 and drew scrutiny from taxi and limo services. The controversy was Uber providing services without proper licensing.
With cars toting a pink mustache on the grill, Lyft, another San Francisco-based company, joined Uber in Oklahoma City in 2014.
In 2015, Uber and Lyft both received business licenses to operate in Oklahoma City. That same year, The Norman Transcript released an opinion article explaining why Norman should also welcome the companies.
“The current generation of college students are to be commended for having the wisdom to use Uber and Lyft to shuttle between their residences and the various venues they attend where drinking alcohol may be a part of the evening’s festivities,” the article said.
Norman Uber and Lyft drivers operate without a license. In November, City Hall Clerk Brenda Hall brought complaints about that to City Council Community Planning and Transportation Committee members, with the conclusion that a decision to take action will happen next year, according to a Norman Transcript article.
Despite the issues the companies faced, Uber and Lyft drivers in Norman like the opportunity to have a job where they make their own hours without a boss, and riders, especially college students, appreciate having a safe, inexpensive way to get home.
“Lyft and Uber are the future, for sure,” Johnson said.