Uber ride-hailing service continues to attract new drivers

Jeremy Swoboda is one of a half dozen Uber drivers in Sarnia now picking up fares. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

Seven years after Canadian entrepreneur Garrett Camp co-founded the mega-successful on-demand car service Uber, Sarnia’s Jeremy Swoboda is wheeling it out locally.

“This is the next step in the driving world. Uber is progressing the taxi industry,” says 28-year-old Swoboda.

As an Uber driver he is an independent contractor who provides his own car, gas and insurance.

Uber customers use mobile apps to order and pay for rides with a credit card. The service has been contested by taxi drivers around the world and is banned in some jurisdictions, but the company continues to grow globally and is becoming a popular alternative to conventional taxi service.

In Sarnia, Swoboda is a long-time child and youth worker at a local group home and decided last fall he wanted to augment his income.

“I went on Google to search for how to make extra cash in Ontario,” Swoboda explained. “With my shift work, it was difficult to find another job that worked with my schedule and to do them both properly.”

The online description of Uber immediately struck him as a good fit.

Swoboda and his wife already had a relatively new vehicle to transport clients, and he liked Uber’s policy that allows its drivers to clock in and out whenever they want.

“I see this as a long-term thing,” Swoboda said. “The hours are great and it’s an easy job to say the least.”

Since being screened by Uber and cleared to drive in September, he’s worked at least three to four hours most days. When Swoboda is available to drive, he simply lets Uber know and customers can book him using their smartphones. Payment is entirely online so Uber drivers and their customers don’t worry about handling cash.

When he’s on duty, the company notifies him electronically when customers request a ride. Riders can actually watch his progress on their phone app as he drives to pick them up.

Most days, Swoboda averages a ride an hour. The holiday season was particularly busy with New Year’s Eve keeping him on the road until 5 a.m.

“It was just crazy,” he said. “People tell me they are using Uber because they want a faster response time and a ride that usually costs less.”

Uber takes 25% of Swoboda’s fares. His biggest fare so far was a five-hour round trip to Brantford that paid him $206. His lowest fares put $2.80 in his pocket to go a few blocks.

Fares are generally set at 90 cents per kilometre plus 15 cents a minute. However, Uber rates increase during peak times and fares can surge up to three times the regular price. Still, Uber rides cost substantially less than taxi fares and about the same when there is a surge, according to Swoboda.

He believes about six other drivers have joined Uber in Sarnia in the last four months.

“Depending on the day, Uber is probably your fastest choice,” he said. “Just be patient as we get more drivers in this area.”

Riders can download the Uber app on their smartphones to request a driver, determine the cost and pay.

FREE FINANCIAL TRAINING FOR BUSINESSES

Entrepreneurs who want to know more about the financial side of their business can register now for a free four-part training session at the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation (BDC).

Local accountant Terry Burrell is volunteering with the BDC, the Chartered Professional Accountants and the Business Development Bank of Canada to deliver financial training sessions starting Jan. 18. Each class is one hour long and is limited to 20 participants.

For details and to register, contact the SLBDC at 109 Durand St. by emailing Beth@slbdc.com or calling 519-383-1371.

Got an interesting business story? Contact Cathy at cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca or 226-932-0985.