1Berkshire looks to bring reliable version of Uber to county

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PITTSFIELD — The county's leading economic development agency is interested in bringing a reliable version of the popular ride-sharing service Uber to the Berkshires.

To gauge the public's interest, 1Berkshire recently released an online survey seeking comments on residents' knowledge of Uber and whether they would use the service if it was established here.

The 1Berkshire survey can be accessed at www.surveymonkey.com/r/6PWG8TL. Comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2.

The first returns were encouraging. 1Berkshire received 115 comments a few hours after the survey was posted, according to 1Berkshire Creative Development Specialist Julia Dixon.

But like in other cities across the country, the introduction of Uber has raised the hackles of the owner of a local taxi company who believes the service should have to follow the same regulations as his company does.

Uber is a San Francisco-based ride-sharing service that uses apps to connect riders with drivers through their phone's GPS capabilities. The apps let both riders and drivers know each other's location and when the ride will actually arrive.

The company processes all the payments involved, charging the passenger's card, taking a percentage of the fee, and direct-depositing the remaining money into the driver's account, according to Time Magazine.

Drivers for Uber are required to pass a background check and must own their own car, which must be insured.

Locally, Uber services both Boston and Worcester, and also covers the four counties of Western Massachusetts, according to the company's website.

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But Dixon said the current Uber service in Berkshire County is spotty and unreliable because there aren't enough riders or drivers.

"Technically, they have a service in Western Mass.," Dixon said. "They spent a lot of money and marketing in Northampton, and there's been a little bit of Uber activity in the Berkshires, but it's not enough to be, quote, reliable.

"We feel we need more transportation options in the Berkshires especially if we're going to attract and retain young people," she said.

According to Dixon, 1Berkshire is interested in partnering with the ride-sharing company on a low-cost version known as "Uber X", which offers the lowest prices of the company's three ride-sharing options, according to Uber's website.

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"It's just a cheaper version of Uber service," she said.

The survey contains 11 questions including asking for the age range and address of each respondent. Participants are also asked how much they know about Uber, if they've used the service before, if they would use it in the Berkshires, and when they would be most likely to use it.

They are also asked if they would like to drive for Uber, and if they are familiar with Uber's driver requirements.

"We're trying to figure out how much people know about Uber," Dixon said. "We're looking to get broad service to as many people as we can so we know who to market it to."

Founded in 2009, Uber also operates in 68 countries and in several major U.S. markets, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles. The company has deep-pocketed investors like Goldman Sachs and Google Ventures.

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Since Uber's inception seven years ago, the ride-sharing service has butted heads with taxi cab companies, who are subject to a myriad of rules and regulations that the ride services often don't need to comply with.

In response to these issues, officials in Broward County, Florida, recently voted to reduce excessive taxi and ride-sharing regulations, creating a single set of rules that all transportation services must follow, according to the Los Angeles Times. In Massachusetts, officials in Cambridge are considering similar measures, the Times reported.

"We're not one to shy away from competition," said Jim Regan, the general manager of Rainbow Taxi in Pittsfield, the city's lone taxicab company.

But based on his understanding of city regulations, Regan doesn't believe Uber cars are registered properly within Pittsfield "to do the type of transportation that they're doing."

"They don't have livery plates on them; that's a state law," Regan said. "(And) they don't have livery insurance. So if something happened in one of those vehicles, God forbid, the passengers might not be covered.

"If Uber cars are registered, insured and licensed properly, then competition is competition," Regan said. "Anybody can offer a lower price."

Regan said the changes in the Berkshire economy over the last several years have also reduced the amount of cars in Rainbow's fleet.

"When I started with this company 19 years ago, we had 16 or 17 cabs," Regan said. "We now have 10. That's all due to things moving in and moving out."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.


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