Soon it will be easier to catch a ride in West Virginia.
It took two years, but lawmakers finally worked out issues and approved legislation permitting ride-hailing services such as Uber in the state. Governor Tomblin signed the bill into law Tuesday and it will go into effect July 1st.
Uber started as a car service for about 100 friends in San Francisco a few years ago. The company, now known as Uber Technologies, has expanded rapidly into over 400 cities in 68 counties.
West Virginia has been behind the times on nimble public transportation. Taxi services must be approved by the state Public Service Commission, which also sets rates. Most taxi companies maintain a monopoly because the PSC must determine there is an unmet need before approving a second company.
Naturally, existing taxi companies opposed the legislation because it will cut into their business. They fear private ride-sharing services will cherry-pick the best customers. But that’s known as marketplace competition, which leads to better service for the customer.
Uber believes there is demand for their services here, primarily in the larger cities such as Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown. The company says there were over 38,000 Uber app activations in the last 14 months just in the Morgantown area by people who wanted a lift, but were unaware Uber was not available yet.
WVU President E. Gordon Gee is a proponent of the service, believing it will give students who have had too much to drink a safer way to get home.
A Temple University study found the presence of Uber cut drunk-driving fatalities by nearly six percent. Another study by Uber and Mothers Against Drunk Driving found the arrival of Uber in Seattle coincided with a 10 percent reduction in DUI arrests.
Additionally, ride-hailing services provide opportunities for people to supplement their income and set their own hours.
Companies such as Uber are innovators, breaking the traditional mold by improving upon an existing service or creating an entirely new approach that creates a value customers are willing to pay for.
Welcome to West Virginia, Uber, and bring your friends.