First established in Hoboken in 2015, Uber said they moved the local office to Secaucus because it has ample space for the office and parking. The center expects to serve 2,000 drivers weekly, according to Uber spokesman Craig Ewer.
To use Uber, customers must tap an app on their phones and put in their address and destination. The company gives them a price for the trip, as well as a price if they want to share the trip with other riders.
The company has had some controversy, as its drivers often do not have to get the expensive licenses and follow the same regulations as taxi drivers. They often head to their destinations by using a GPS system and don’t always know the local area the way taxi drivers do. However, some find Uber much better priced and more convenient than calling a local cab service.
This Uber location is not for customers to come rent a car, but for the drivers to stop in for a break.
“It’s an honor to have you here,” Gonnelli said, at a press conference prior to the ribbon cutting. “It’s a pleasure – we’ll see how it works out.”
“We really hope to take our commitment to our driver partners here to the next level, by providing the customer support they need, and also a place to relax between trips,” said Ewer.
According to Uber General Manager Brian Hughes, demand for Uber in Secaucus has been rising, from “people going out to dinner on a weekend, going to a doctor’s appointment during the week, to even getting around just to the grocery center.”
In Secaucus, many users take an Uber and transfer to NJ Transit’s Secaucus Junction to catch a train.
Uber officials say the location is also beneficial because of its proximity to train access and highways such as Route 3.
Uber serves 60 countries and 400 cities worldwide. But with expansion, there comes competition. Taxi drivers in various countries have protested against Uber, arguing Uber was imposing on their livelihoods and reducing their fares.
“What we’ve seen is, we’re actually able to thrive alongside many other transportation options over time,” Hughes responded. He said often, people take Uber instead of using their personal vehicles.
Ronald Griffin, an Uber driver and Emerson resident who was at the opening, said he puts in 60 to 80 hours weekly driving.
“It’s called progress,” said Griffin, 73. “IBM used to make electric typewriters. They don’t make them anymore. Why not? They have laptops. They used to have payphones. Can you find any payphones? No, because you’ve got cell phones. People love it, it’s cheaper, it’s safer, and reliable.”
“It’s very sad what’s happening to the taxi business.” – John Berole
Unlike in New York City, where Uber drivers must get a special license to transport passengers, in New Jersey, no such regulation exists. All one needs to become an Uber driver in the state is an ID, a personal insurance policy, be at least 21 years old, and pass a background check to drive, according to Ewer.
Does that deregulation leave Uber users in New Jersey at a heightened risk?
“What we’ve found is that safety is one of the main reasons that people choose Uber on a regular basis,” Ewer said. “When you’re in an Uber, the trip is always on the map. There’s real accountability through GPS records. The technology really makes sure that nobody is driving anonymously.”
Local taxi drivers weren’t as optimistic. “Uber is not what people think,” said John Berole, a driver and part-time dispatcher for Secaucus Taxi. “It’s not reliable.”
Anyone who wants to drive for a taxi company in Secaucus has to apply for a special license at Town Hall, Berole said. This is an extra expense that Uber drivers in town do not have to worry about.
“Uber can get away without these regulations because they’ve spent millions lobbying the state of New Jersey,” he said.
A report from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission helps support Berole’s lobbying claims. According to the report, Uber spent over $159,000 in 2015 to lobby Trenton against a bill that would regulate its drivers.
Another report from the New York Public Interest Research Group found that the company spent over $1.2 million lobbying Albany in the first half of 2017.
Berole also claimed that Secaucus police often harass taxi drivers picking up people at the Meadowlands Expo Center after events, but ignore Uber drivers doing the same thing.
“They’ll be cabbies lined up there to make a few bucks,” he said. “Police come, ‘Move; get the hell out of here!’ Then at the same time you see Uber guys picking up – no problem. It’s very sad, what’s happening to the taxi business.”
At Secaucus Junction’s taxi stand Feb. 21, two cabbies struggling to pick up fares also said Uber was cutting into their profits.
Joe, a driver for Access Taxi, recalled a time when a potential passenger needed a ride to Morristown. His going price was $90. “She got on the phone and Uber lets her go for $37,” Joe said. “Now, how the hell are we supposed to beat that? That’s not fair to us. They don’t belong here with us.”
Jerry, a driver for Josie’s Limo Service, said the Port Authority Police gave him three tickets for a drop off at Newark Airport. However, he claims, they often leave Uber drivers alone.
“At the MetLife Stadium, they have a special lane for Uber,” he said. “We taxis, they chase us away from the stadium.”
However, Jerry also places some blame on taxi drivers themselves, saying they need to do more to bring charges against Uber.
“This message should be delivered to the governor of New Jersey,” he said. “He’s not going to know this until we talk in a loud voice together, as taxi drivers, as people, as customers, and try to talk and speak. Everybody has to come together.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org