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Uber, Lyft picking up speed in York

Written by Brett Sholtis/York Daily Record | Jan 17, 2017 6:54 AM
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Retired York City deputy fire chief Greg Halpin drives for Uber in York. After 34 years in the fire department, Halpin retired in June 2015 and began driving for Uber in Dec. 2016. (Photo: Chris Dunn, York Daily Record)

York Fire Company's former deputy fire chief, Greg Halpin, is one of York's growing list of Uber drivers.

(York) -- Working for City of York Fire Department, Greg Halpin learned his way around the city's backstreets and alleys. Now, the retired deputy fire chief is putting those skills to a new use -- as an Uber driver.

"I probably know the city streets better than most of the other Uber drivers out there because that was my job for 34 years..." Halpin said.

Uber launched as a mobile app in 2011, and its first rival, Lyft, launched in 2012. The companies exemplify the new "sharing economy" that centers around mobile phone apps. Uber made waves for challenging long-time taxi cab companies' markets, leading to a global backlash that included violent protests in France and legal squabbles across the U.S., as cities had to decide whether Uber drivers should be considered "taxi drivers" or "freelancers."

Uber and Lyft exploded in larger cities, but never really took off in York. That's changed, however, said Halpin, who pointed to the app to show that at least eight other drivers were online in and around the city at that moment. A look at the Lyft app showed similar numbers.

After 34 years of service with the York City Fire Department, Greg Halpin is using his knowledge of the streets by driving for Uber. Chris Dunn, York Daily Record

Overall, the York-Gettysburg region has seen about 9,000 riders, Uber said by email. There are "fewer than 500 drivers" working in the area. Visitors from 25 countries have used Uber in York and Adams counties, and 40 percent of trips are one way, indicating that people are using a blend of transportation, such as relying on public transit or friends for return trips.

For those who are smartphone savvy, Uber and Lyft have advantages over a taxi, Halpin said. For example, customers can read reviews for specific drivers to decide who to choose for a ride.

That's led Halpin to some busy nights -- especially New Year's Eve, where he shuttled York County residents downtown or across the river to Lancaster.

"Uber's been interesting because it's given me something to do, but on my terms," Halpin said. "I'm not locked in to someone's schedule."

So far, Uber, Lyft and traditional taxi services have managed to coexist well in York County, said Sylvia Webb, who owns White Rose Taxi. Webb said she's seen a slight drop-off among college students, who are perhaps more likely to use ride-booking services than other groups. However, York's proximity to other cities, including Baltimore, which has a major airport, leaves the taxi company with a built-in market that has expanded Webb's business from two cars to 10.

Plenty of transportation options are good news for York, said John McElligott, CEO of the Fortress Academy, a computer training school that is slated to open this year. Still, transportation is already evolving from ride-booking apps toward automated vehicles, McElligott said, pointing to Pittsburgh, Pa., where, last fall, Uber launched a pilot program to test its driverless transportation service.

In theory, the future could entail a diverse environment that includes ride-booking services and driverless cars, said Sherif Marakb, Uber Vice President of Global Vehicle Programs, in a USA Today interview. "The biggest problem in ride-sharing is supply -- meaning having enough cars, enough drivers, at peak times," Marakb said. Self-driving vehicles will help to meet that need.

Halpin said he's just glad to have carved out a new way to stay engaged with the community. Plus, it's fun to meet new people, often when they're excited to be out and about.

"I'm 55, so I'm listening to another generation doing what I was doing 30 years ago," he said. "I've met some nice people."

Business reporter Gary Haber contributed to this report. 

 

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

Published in News, York

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