Photo by Keith McCoy.
The Uber app allows users to submit a driver request and track how far away the driver is through a map within the app.
While Will Lochamy was working in San Francisco several years ago, a fellow employee advised him to download the Uber app. He said he was blown away. Founded in 2009, Uber allows users to submit a driver request, which is then sent to Uber drivers in the area. Users can track how far away the Uber driver is through a map within the app.
Lochamy said despite many negative perceptions, he’s had nothing but positive experiences using the service.
“[If there are] too many negative ratings for them, they’re no longer a driver. Too many for me, they won’t pick me up. I like that. I like accountability,” he said of Uber drivers.
Lochamy, a Bluff Park resident, feels so strongly about the service that he traveled to Montgomery to support a state bill that would make it easier for Uber, Lyft and other ride-share programs to operate in the state.
State House Bill 509, sponsored by Alabama Rep. Jack Williams, would allow transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber to operate throughout the state under the supervision of the state’s Public Service Commission. Currently, taxis and other paid travel services are regulated by their cities.
Hoover council member John Lyda traveled to Montgomery on April 29 to share his support for the bill as well. Lyda said cities like Hoover could pass their own ordinances about TNCs, but it would be difficult to coordinate these ordinances so that these companies could operate across city lines. He pointed out that there are 37 distinct municipalities in Jefferson County alone.
“I think it’s something that the Birmingham metro area is starving for,” Lyda said.
This was Lyda’s first time speaking in front of a state legislative committee, and he noted there were passionate speakers on both sides of the issue. One of his main points to the committee was that Birmingham has a relative lack of sidewalks and public transit connecting the city and surrounding areas.
“I tried to communicate that the Birmingham metro area will never top the list of America’s most walkable cities,” Lyda said. “We rely heavily on for-hire transportation.”
Lyda described himself as a “dedicated Uber user” when he travels outside the state. If House Bill 509 receives a favorable vote, the bill will be brought before the Alabama House of Representatives, and Lyda said he would like to see the bill passed during the current legislative session.
Over the past several years, there have been public discussions about the restrictions preventing ride-sharing programs like Uber from entering the Birmingham market. In July 2014, the Birmingham City Council passed a vote approving a revised transit code, which included provisions for ride sharing program. Councilors cited quality and safety as concerns when it comes to these transportations services.
Lochamy says he can’t imagine living anywhere but Bluff Park, but when it comes to traveling outside of the neighborhood to downtown Birmingham, he’s had some difficulties with public transportation.
“It’s not like there aren’t good options out there,” Lochamy said. “They just aren’t available to us. In fact, we are the only state in the South that doesn’t have ride-sharing.”
He hopes that State House Bill 509 will pass and believes it could help connect the suburbs with the downtown area.
“I want to live the suburban life but safely play in the big city,” he said. “If and when it’s passed, it will save lives and at the very least, make our community more convenient and inviting to visitors.”