Police and Taxi Owners Concerned After ‘Uber’ Posts Grand Rapids Job Ad

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (June 12, 2014) — The driving service called Uber is looking for drivers in West Michigan. The company has posted a job ad to hire in the Grand Rapids area.

The company is no stranger to controversy after being connected to assaults of passengers and international protests.

Karen Heyser has been running Calder City Taxi in Grand Rapids for two decades. Heyser said that the overhead costs of running a business that’s required to operate 24 hours are expensive. With Uber offering to connect people who need a ride with others willing to give them a lift, it’s an uneven playing field, she says.

“No, it’s not fair. It’s very expensive to operate legitimately, and the right way to operate a taxi cab company is a very expensive operation,” said Heyser.

It costs Heyser between $4,000 and $9,000 dollars per vehicle annually. She also pays for two licensed mechanics, vehicle repair parts, and a 24-hour dispatch center.

Heyser said that with the rising costs of taxi licenses in the city of Grand Rapids, it’s becoming harder to find drivers willing to front the cost.

“They are looking at $300 to license every year,” said Heyser. “We are the highest in the state of Michigan, in Grand Rapids. It’s made for a much harder time getting drivers to fill their cars,”

Grand Rapids Police Lieutenant Patrick Merrill said that he’s known of Uber’s existence for over a year, and he has his concerns over the safety of both passengers and drivers using the service.

Grand Rapids police said that law enforcement conducts background checks on all drivers who apply for a taxi license with the city, and makes sure the driver has the proper car insurance.

“If you take all of those things out of the mix, and now you really have a, kind of a wild west version of a taxi service,” said Lt. Merrill. “It’s almost like a Craigslist taxi.”

There is an ad from Uber Technologies posted to Career Builder. The requirements are simple: you must be at least 23 years old, have a four-door vehicle that is a model year 2005 or newer, proper registration and insurance. The ad doesn’t mention a background check by law enforcement, only one conducted by themselves, unlike cab drivers in Grand Rapids, where police conduct the background check.

“To be honest with you, people are desperate to get a car at night,” said Heyser. “They don’t care which cab they flag. They don’t care what company they are using, and I understand that. They are looking to get home. They aren’t going to be real particular about what car they are getting into.”

Even though Grand Rapids is listed as a city looking for drivers on Uber’s website, Grand Rapids is not listed as a Uber option.

The city clerk’s office said that they plan to research the company before taking any action to block the service.

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  • lizmillerxc416

    Go to http://www.lyftvsuber.com/ to try out Uber or Lyft for yourself. $25 of free ride credit, and new driver sign-up bonuses!! drivers can make as much as $35/hr (personally, I drive once or twice a week for a little extra cash). you’ll see what all the hype is about :)

  • Brian

    Grand Rapids may charge the most most for a license to operate but that sure does not translate into good service from the local cab company. Just TRY and get a cab downtown on a friday or saturday night! I can understand some of the concerns about UBER, but seems like the cab company is more worried that someone else might provide a better service for a better price.

    • DennisWMRides

      The reason there are not enough cabs on Friday and Saturday nights is that operators cannot afford to insure and license vehicles that would be idle the other 5 days of the week when demand is much lower. Grand Rapids sets a maximum rate for Taxicab services and they do not allow exceptions for the weekends or any other time that demand is high.

  • donniegood

    Have you even reached out to Uber…. they do federal background checks… I am a uber driver and we are out there and will be on the road today!

    • Dennis

      Donniegood or any Uber type Driver,
      Do you operate as a commercial vehicle? Are you insured for liability if your passenger is killed or injured? When is the last time your car was inspected by a licensed Mechanic? Any vehicle used to carry paying passengers in Michigan is required to be licensed by the state Department of Transportation as a Limousine… Unless it is licensed by the city of Grand Rapids or Detroit. Whether Licensed by the city or the state, The vehicle has to be properly insured for commercial passenger service before a license is granted. These are the concerns that legitimate transportation providers have with Uber drivers using their own private vehicles to carry paying passengers. They take business away from existing operators while putting the riding public, and non traditional drivers themselves, at risk.

  • Andy

    This is great news for Grand Rapids! The more convenient it is for people who shouldnt be driving to get a ride home, the more it will be used. Plus, Uber seems to branch to growing/thriving cities…says a lot about GR!!

    • DennisWMRides

      Uber certainly has some pretty smart folks working for them. They see a city, or a region in need of an efficient / friendly / clean means of transportation and is at least looking into filling that need. If the existing taxicab services and their drivers, don't fill those needs themselves, Uber or other companies like them, will move in and take their place. I understand the challenged with a less than level playing field, but that does not mean there isn't room for improvement. What attracts customers and Drivers to the Uber business model anyway?

      Mobile phone Hailing
      The technology exists now and is available to Taxicab and limousine license holders now right here in West Michigan. The more drivers that have this technology in place the more available they will be for automated dispatches.

      Driver App to receive Hails, Track Calls and map to pickup and destination. If the taxicab companies would adopt this technology, it could make an immediate impact on the number of incoming calls. Dispatchers would be able to track the location of drivers and their status. Drivers would be able to increase their ridership, less deadheading back to town for the next street hail. Again the technology is available right here, right now.

      Clean Cars and Drivers
      Uber drivers use their own vehicles and they treat them that way. If the taxicab drivers in Grand Rapids had some sense of ownership, they would keep their cars, and themselves, clean and presentable to the general public. Metro Cabs and Metro Cars does a good job on this one. The other companies in town would do well to follow their example. It would benefit the entire industry and give Grand Rapids one more thing to be proud of.

      Polite and Courteous Dispatchers.
      Ok, Uber doesn't have live dispatchers, but Grand Rapids taxicab companies DO and that can be an asset if the dispatchers are polite and courteous. You have to hand it to the dispatchers in this city, they have to deal with so many challenges each and every day. Not only do they have to deal with a very diverse group of customers but they have to deal with a diverse group of drivers. It takes a special kind of person to be able to juggle the two groups and keep everything flowing without losing track of a call. It's not surprising that when the phones light up like a Christmas Tree on Friday or Saturday night that a telephone dispatcher might come across as curt or rude to a caller. They are only human. When the phones get busy it helps to add more phone operators, but another person on the phone means another expense for the cab company. Money that could be put to better use by investing in automated dispatching systems. Not to replace the dispatcher but to give them a tool to keep up to date information on drivers and make their work less stressful.

  • Alan

    I'm originally from Michigan but now travel the US full time to all major cities and I think Uber would be great for Grand Rapids. As I visited there for work earlier this year, it is a pain to get a cab there and if I can just open an app on my phone, know how long it's going to take the car to get there, and have a clean decent ride home. Also, they ALWAYS accept credit/debit cards where many cabs will only accept cash. I think people need to move with the times and accept this new way of transportation. Taxi cabs are usually out dated, disgusting or smoky inside and usually you have to wait for at least 20 minutes