Ride-sharing company Uber announced Monday on its website that it plans to extend its Little Rock service area to Pine Bluff beginning Feb. 23.
The announcement comes after several months of discussion between the company and community officials.
“As of next Thursday, Feb. 23, riders will be able to open their Uber app and request a ride, and drivers will be able to log on and accept trip requests in Pine Bluff,” a news release on the company’s website stated.
Uber is offering first-time riders a free ride up to $15 if they apply the promotional code PINEBLUFF. Smartphone users can use the promotion by downloading the Uber app and entering the code.
Founded in 2008, Uber is what is known as a traffic network company, or TNC. TNCs use online-enabled platforms, also known as apps, to connect users with drivers. The company already offers service in northwest Arkansas and central Arkansas.
Unlike taxi cab drivers, Uber drivers are private citizens who use their own cars and drive under their own insurance.
Smartphone users may download the app for free, enter their credit card information, and request a ride. The app alerts Uber drivers in the area, and users can monitor the progress of the driver who accepts their request on a GPS map on their phone. The user’s credit card is charged a fixed fee at the end of the ride, and the driver and Uber divide the revenue.
The Pine Bluff Commercial posed a question to its Facebook page on November 12 that asked whether Pine Bluff residents would be interested in using Uber. The question received more than 70 replies, which ranged from concerns about safety for the drivers to supporters who said it would help people with no transportation to get around. Some said students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the elderly would benefit from access to regular trips to Walmart and elsewhere, while it could also provide a route to White Hall.
Jefferson County economic director Caleb McMahon broached the possibility of Uber extending service to Pine Bluff at the Jan. 23 meeting of Pine Bluff Rising, a coalition of community leaders and activists who are seeking to transform the city. McMahon said Uber had been monitoring how many residents have downloaded the app and how many have signed up to be drivers. Ryan Watley, assistant director of development at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, briefly paused the meeting and asked members of the audience to download the Uber app.
Uber spokesman Travis Considine said the app has been helpful elsewhere for people seeking trips to and from airports and local college students needing transportation. He expects it to provide similar benefits to Pine Bluff, and also offer opportunities for drivers to make extra income.
“I think it gives people a fantastic option to work based on their own priorities and their own needs and their own schedules,” Considine said. “We see a lot of driver partners who do this for supplemental income. There’s a lot of parents that stay home during the day [who] during their free time can be drivers. A lot of students, a lot of veterans. So it really provides a wonderful opportunity for a supplemental income.”
The cost to ride the 5.3 miles from UAPB to Walmart at 5501 S Olive St. is estimated to be between $7-10, according to the Uber website. The cost to ride the 7.6 miles from UAPB to Grider Field is estimated to be between $9-12. The fare estimates are based on Little Rock rates and options. Traffic, weather and other factors can cause rates to vary, according to the website.
Pine Bluff resident Sandra Gracie said she was a little perplexed by the talk about Uber coming to Pine Bluff, because she says she’s already been working as an Uber driver in the area since early December. She said she turns on the app to accept requests every day after getting off from her other job at 4 p.m., and has developed several regular customers.
She feels safe driving because the payment is cashless and the company possesses information on customers through their smartphones, which she compared to a taxi driver who may not know who they are picking up.
A typical ride around Pine Bluff costs about five dollars, she said. Walmart is a popular destination, and she often drives Pine Bluff residents to the Little Rock airport in her orange Dodge Nitro, or to the city for dining or shopping.
A ride to the airport costs about $42, of which she keeps about $37.50, Gracie said. A good day just driving around Pine Bluff nets about $30, but she often uses the Little Rock airport trips to drive around that city, which is lucrative, she said.
“If someone is thinking you could sit here in Pine Bluff and making a living [driving Uber full-time]?” she said. “No. But as a second job, it’s great!”
Gracie said she receives $100 every time someone she recommends signs up to be a driver, and she can also offer promotions of a free ride for up to $15 for first-time riders. She has recently convinced three people to sign up as drivers, she said, and she claimed to know of at least three other drivers in Pine Bluff.
The most she has made in one night is $403 after the Feb. 4 Eric Church concert in North Little Rock, as a shortage of cars led to “surge”—or multiplied—pricing. That included a $325 payout from Uber and about $70 in tips, she said. In total she’s made about $700 in February, she said. That’s already higher than her income from January, when cold weather resulted in fewer rides.