Uber Technologies Inc. is again expanding in Baton Rouge, this time by creating long-term plans to provide service at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport even as cab drivers there strain to hang onto customers.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council is expected to vote on an ordinance Wednesday that sets a $100 monthly fee for Uber to operate out of the airport for a year.
An Uber spokesman said the ride share company has already started servicing airport customers but negotiations were short-term. Airport spokesman Jim Caldwell said the $100 monthly fee is more than cab companies pay.
This is Uber’s latest move to grow its presence in the Capital City, where it has been operating since July.
The company hires independent contractors, or “partners,” who respond to app alerts on their smartphones and drive their own vehicles to transport Uber customers. When Uber customers want a ride, they click a button on their phone, which then tells them how quickly a car can arrive. Riders also have the option to split fares, as their credit cards are programmed into the app on their phone.
Uber has already expanded its vehicle offerings in Baton Rouge from the basic UberX, which are vehicles like Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys that can fit up to four riders, to the larger UberXL, which can fit up to six in larger vehicles like Chevrolet Tahoes. Uber representatives see the airport as another way to heighten business.
Cab drivers who consistently work from the airport say demand is already sluggish. With the addition of the Capital Area Transit System’s airport shuttle and now Uber, travelers have more transportation options than ever.
“We already feel the pinch,” said Bennett Mackie, a 76-year-old cab driver who said he’s been driving airport cabs for 40 years. “If they (Uber) come, I don’t know how much of the pie’s left, so to speak.”
Mackie and his son operate Mackie’s Airport Cabs. He said business is often slow, especially when school is not in session. Caldwell said airport officials are sympathetic to the struggling cab drivers.
The problem is not unique to Louisiana’s capital. Cab drivers nationwide have slapped Uber with lawsuits for not meeting their same legal requirements, while other lawsuits accuse Uber of racketeering and exploiting their own drivers. In addition, other ride share companies, like Lyft, have been upping the ante for competition.
There are some cases when having more drivers in Baton Rouge will be good, Mackie said. When four or five planes land at the same time, he said the few cab companies working at the airport cannot accommodate everyone.
LSU football game days are also busy ones. Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said demand spikes on game days.
“We’re creating a whole new piece of the transportation industry,” Bennett said. “More options and more opportunities doesn’t take away from the others.”
The upswings in demand are why Councilman John Delgado co-sponsored the ordinance to allow ride share companies like Uber to operate in the parish.
Delgado said he often sees patrons at his bars, Huey’s and Brickyard South, using Uber for a ride home. In addition, he said most local bars are stocked with cards about how to download the Uber app.
Before Uber, Delgado said, people often felt like their only option to get back home was to drive, even if drunk. He said Uber changes the way people plan, especially because public transportation is not widely accepted and the small number of cab companies cannot keep up with demand.
“They didn’t have the competition to spur them to be better and more effective,” Delgado said. “If by virtue of having the competition, the cab companies change their model, that’s a great thing.”
Uber has also recently expanded into New Orleans, where its more high-end UberBlack Lincoln Towncars and UberSUV Lincoln Navigators services are available. Bennett said the company does not have current plans to expand further into Louisiana, though they are always looking for opportunities.