It’s a new day in Houston for people who need a ride.
Brian Walts was out until about 3 a.m. Friday hitting the clubs, but he didn’t have a single drink or set foot on a dance floor.
Rather, he was driving two gents home from the Washington Avenue area for free, hoping that by giving away an Uber trip, he might gain some customers for the service.
Uber and its competitor Lyft charged into the Houston ridesharing market in the past two days under the watchful eye of Houston officials who warned that the companies cannot accept payment until the city changes its rules governing taxis and limos.
For the companies, it’s a chance to earn some street cred with locals and gain some attention. Houston residents looking for a lift benefit from free trips within Loop 610.
For drivers like Walts, paid by the hour by the companies until they can make money based on their trips, it’s a chance to ease into their new role. For the customer, the experience is somewhere between calling a cab and bumming a ride from a friend.
Walts is hoping that collecting riders in his 2013 Hyundai can be a second job on top of his full-time gig as an account manager for a security technology company.
“It’s easy to do, especially if you’re a native,” he said on a spin through downtown.
Taxi companies have argued the companies are skirting established rules and do not live by the same strict standards governing taxi and limo companies.
Even giving away rides has been questioned. Yellow Cab spokeswoman Cindy Clifford argued that if a driver is paid to transport passengers, he or she is operating a “vehicle for hire” even if someone other than the customer is paying.
The city’s position, however, is that the trips are lawful as long as no money is exchanged, said Christopher Newport, chief of staff for the city’s regulatory affairs office.
The main thing that we learn – or at least, that I learned – from this story is that Uber, and I presume Lyft, will be paying drivers an hourly wage for the time that rides are free to users. That answers my question about why anyone would want to do the driving during that time, but still leaves open the matter of how long the companies will be willing to do this. Seven weeks is a long time, and delays are always possible. Be that as it may, here they are. We’ll see how well they’re received by the public.