An attempt to hail Uber for the Albany area

uber app screenshots

Screenshots from the Uber mobile app.

Whenever the subject of Capital Region taxi services comes up, there are almost inevitably a number of complaints. The dissatisfaction seems to stem from people being a) unhappy with the reliability of service or b) unclear about the vague pricing system or c) both "a" and "b."

But maybe there's a why shake things up for the better. Two of the area's prominent entrepreneurs -- Matt Baumgartner and Vic Christopher -- have started a campaign to attract the service Uber to the Albany metro area. Uber and its fleets of drivers allow riders to order, track, pay, and rate car service by mobile app.

Christopher, the owner of The Confectionery and The Grocery in Troy, told us today that he was "blown away by the genius of this concept" after he and his wife, Heather, had recently tried Uber while traveling through cities out west, including Denver, LA, San Diego, and San Francisco.

"We discovered it while out in Denver, at Ace, a ping-pong noodle bar," Christopher said via email. "It was recommended by our bartender. We downloaded the app, signed up, and hailed our first cab within 3 minutes. ... We used this service many times during our trip, and found the drivers to be professional and personable, 100% of the time. The drivers I met were all thrilled with the program, as they are now working for themselves, opposed to a taxi company. They seem to all share a sense of pride in being their own boss."

Back here in the Capital Region, Christopher said he ran into Baumgartner and found out they shared an appreciation for the service. Explained Baumgartner: "Vic and I started this conversation because I was in Troy and called a cab company to pick me up because there were no cabs available on the street. I waited for 25 minutes, and when the cab showed up, there were 3 people in the back seat. There needs to be a better option than that."

So they decided to reach out to the company together, and start a social media campaign to raise awareness and rally support.

"Vic and I started this conversation because I was in Troy and called a cab company to pick me up because there were no cabs available on the street. I waited for 25 minutes, and when the cab showed up, there were 3 people in the back seat. There needs to be a better option than that."

"Living in NYC and using Uber frequently while I'm there, it has proven to be a quick, reliable, affordable alternative to a cab," Baumgartner, the owner of Bombers and other establishments, said to us today via email. "In Albany, it is often difficult finding a cab on the spot, and Uber provides that service."

Baumgartner's take on the current state of taxi service in this area is similar to many of the complaints that frequently pop up in comment threads: The rides aren't metered, so it's hard to figure out who much you'll end up paying. And there's no guarantee an arranged taxi will show up. He cited getting to/from the train station as a frustrating example. "You have to share the cab with multiple people, and it often takes forever to get to your destination."

Uber currently operates in more 70 cities around the world, including 37 cities in the United States. Some of the cities are the ones you'd expect -- Seattle, DC, San Francisco. But others -- such as Tucson and Santa Barbara -- are on a scale more like the Capital Region.

The service, which started in 2009, has been getting a lot of attention recently as it expands and picks up loyal customers -- and catches flak from critics who accuse it of bending rules, or who aren't onboard with some aspects of the service such as the use of surge pricing when demand is high. A recent Bloomberg Businesweek article is a good overview. A clip:

There's a battle for the future of transportation being waged outside our offices and homes. Uber and a growing collection of well-funded startups, such as the ride-sharing service Lyft, are trying to make getting a taxi as easy as booking a reservation on OpenTable (OPEN) or checking a price on (AMZN)--just another thing you do with your smartphone. Flush with Silicon Valley venture capital, these companies have an even grander ambition: They want to make owning a car completely unnecessary. They're battling each other, city regulators, entrenched taxi interests, and critics who claim they are succeeding only because they run roughshod over laws meant to protect public safety. "Being out in front of the taxi industry, putting a bull's-eye on our back, has not been easy," says Travis Kalanick, the 37-year-old chief executive of Uber. "The taxi industry has been ripe for disruption for decades. But only technology has allowed it to really kick in."

We've reached out to Uber to find out where it's at as far as the Albany market. We'll update if/when we hear back.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Ask AOA: What is a reasonable price for a cab ride from ALB to downtown Albany?
+ Ask AOA: A good taxi service?

screenshots: Uber


Good luck to them - Uber would be great to have in Albany. Hopefully they'll have more success than the car share folks.

As someone who holds back on participating in certain activities due to the inconsistencies and terrible pricing (is there even any standard pricing??) of Albany cabs and taxi services, I highly hope this happens. Maybe next time I want to take a cab with 2 others 0.9 miles it won't cost us EACH 10 bucks!

"We discovered it while out in Denver, at Ace, a ping-pong noodle bar,"

Andddd that sentence is where 99% of the people in Albany stop reading/taking this seriously.

you beat me to that comment.

Uber is such a success, it's only a matter of time before it comes here. It's a smart move to try to attract them, there is completely a market here for it.

I've used Uber a few times in Manhattan, and it's awesome! Anything, including a $20 ride on the back of an Amish buggy, would be a huge upgrade over the "service" available here now.

Uber has thrived in San Francisco, another city with a shortage of cabs. They've recently introduced variable pricing so your ride to the theater or home from the bar at 2 am will cost more than a ride in the middle of the day.

Two competing companies are Lyft and Sidecar. Lyft has big pink moustaches on the front of its cars; Sidecar seems to be the only one that has an app that tells you what cars are in your area and how long before you get picked up.

I haven't tried any of these yet; folks I know in SF use Uber out of habit and like it, but the other two seem worth trying, and maybe luring to our area.

What your saying here is that you favor a service that uses indie operators that have taken no background checks, passed no pre requisite drug screens, have no operating permits what so ever, have no commercial liability insurance as a for hire operation, and do not comply with the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act).


@stewart actually they WILL be licensed, screened and insured according to the Uber website:

I would assume that the drivers for Uber would have to jump through all the same hoops as any of the independent taxi drivers who work in the area currently. Uber just gives you a better way to find one of those independent drivers and makes the cost of your ride more transparent.

Competition is always a good thing for consumers.

Innovation in the taxi business will spur growth that levels the entrenched bosses of the old broken system.
What is wrong with two or three people sharing a ride going to the same destination, that seems to me to be off the mark and a point to help lower the cost of the ride by some percentage, this to will come to pass as transportation cost continue to rise with the price of oil and competition wrangles for added value anyway that it can keep up. Of course one has to be as a consumer of the service plugged in to the technology that made it all happen. Singularity here we come!

Ping pong noodle bar would never work in ALbany. idea Too silly !

ping pong noodle bar..

@stewart: can it be worse than what we have now? I can't even reliably get a taxi to the airport -- from my apartment just off Wolf Road -- and when I do, it's a small fortune for a 5 minute ride.

I used to live in Seattle and there is now a huge war (legal war)
raging between the taxi drivers and Uber/Lyft/Sidecar. Seattle's taxi service isn't quite as bad as the Capital Region, but it's pretty close. Taxi drivers need a reality check. The companies in business here provide abysmal service, treat their employees like crap (so they don't have any quality drivers), and don't give one rat's a$$ about their customers.

@Stewart - do you actually believe that the current taxi services do background checks, drug screens, or care about the ADA? You're delusional.

I am disabled. When Capital land had the paratransit contract with CDTA providing STAR service (which to be clear EXISTS TO HELP the DISABLED) they sent cars that one could not get into if disabled. The back seat barely had enough leg room for a child, never mind someone with leg braces and canes.

The local cab companies and their policies of basically making you wait as long as they please and packing you into a car with other passengers and taking you on a ride for hours are despicable. Any competition to them should be welcome.

The one problem that no one ever discusses, however is
Uber/Lyft/Sidecar require you to have a smartphone in order to use them. Even if they came here, they leave out anyone who does not have a smart phone.

I demand to know what they would charge for a ride to the alms-house.

Seriously, our service is unspeakably terrible. I consider a cab in the Capital District as the last, worst, and least reliable option for getting anywhere, and whenever I have tried to test my assumptions, I have only had them reinforced.

Contrary to what @Brendan said it's the @Stewart types that will be the main hurdle to innovative, distributed services like Uber thriving here. Having just attended a State of the Region chamber breakfast which touted technology and the rise of the "-illeries" (breweries, distilleries, cideries, etc.), I am constantly amazed at the amount NIMBY-esque attitudes and utter disdain for any kind of innovation that gets area workers off the 787, 90, and the Northway. Telecommuting, mass transit innovations, etc. are automatically shot-down by the biggest employers because they can't wrap their heads around doing business in a different way, or treating employees like human beings.

Uber is far from perfect. They will gouge the prices if the prices can be gouged. They did it down in the City during Sandy. On the other hand, service is so bad here that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse could open a car service and it would be deemed a major improvement.

don't worry, i hear our savior Vic will be opening a noddle bar....maybe he'll add ping pong andthe hipsterfication will be nearly complete on that corner.

oh please.
ping pong noodle bars are so 2013.
Everyone knows whist bars that serve exclusively bone marrow are the new underground thing.

see..they have racks where you can leave your personal bone marrow spoon for your next visit...and a public scoreboard for the whist tournaments...

it's a big city thing you guys wouldn't get it....

@Rebecca: you just broke the first rule of Whist Bone Marrow Parlours, you don't TALK about Whist Bone Marrow Parlours! You're out of the club, sorry.


AOA asked me where we were when we found out about Uber, so I told them.

The crazy thing is that the only reason we went to Denver in the first place was because we met some people in the Confectionery who lived there & thought we should check it out. It was a fun place that nobody could be grouchy in.

Seriousness is the enemy of innovation!


Vic Christopher

@Addie's dad--ha! funny.

@Vic I think what folks like you and your wife and other entrepreneurs are doing in our area is FANtastic. I really wish you'd been here when I was in my 20s and was so desperate for what the area has now.
Case in point: a thread on a Rochester area friend's FB page was all about this amazing place where you had to knock to get in, dress up, no cel phones etc and I kept reading thinking, oh please. WE have that here already. And the were talking about...Albany. I suspect there are blogs all over the country right now who are talking about OUR cool places that serve wine and cheese and chocolate, or Utica food, or a bus that takes people around to the all the beer places, or..well. you get my point. Risk-taking and open minded people (with senses of humor, thankfully!) have made this area pretty great.

The drivers need to use a smart phone to accept customers may not work with NY cell phone and texting while driving laws, as in this sad case:

How are they getting away with it in NYC?

taxis are inspected by the city the drivers are drug tested and can't have a felony record of any kind.must have min ins, must have special plates,again drug tested at random annually ,Prices are controlled by local govt.Most citys require ada acce. vehicles,Cant surge price,This is only a few .So if u want ubber why not let the cabs do the same as ubber and ignore all the laws.I'm sure the 2 entrepreneurs ,wouldn't mind if I open a store next to thiers and didn't have to abide by any city codes and no insurane or inspections .It would be nice if people would look at the whole situation not just personal likes and dislikes.Also cabs are numbered by the local govt as to how many u can have Please look at the whole big picture

@tony, the government is doing a wonderful job overseeing our local taxi service. The cabs in Albany are all smoke-free, reliable, and prices are closely regulated. All the drivers are outstanding. Nothing to see here.

As a manager of a local Albany hotel, the taxi situation in the capitol district is a daily struggle for my staff and our guests. When calling hours in advance to schedule a taxi, that said taxi should be on time. Unfortunately, this is not the case 99% of the time. When any cab company is called, they will give the obligatory 15-20minute time frame, when in reality it is 30 minutes or longer. There has got to be a better way! For travelers visiting the Capitol of New York State, this leaves them questioning a repeat trip. It is an embarrassment, and gives our local area a bad image.
Oh, and I've been to Ace, and beer + ping pong is amazing!!

Another perspective on Uber in this piece from The Verge titled "Uber kept new drivers off the road to encourage surge pricing and increase fares."

Uber über alles?

Used Uber for first time in Chicago last weekend and it was great. The cabs are way expensive there and Uber is a great alternative.

I wish Albany had a ping pong noodle place. Those who don't are the enemy of fun and probably have a bitchy resting brain.

Packing 8 people into a cab and charging everyone in it is price-gouging. It's been going on in Albany for years.

I would definitely use this service. I feel so nervous about potentially missing a flight when I call a cab to drive me from Troy to the airport.

More marrow:

I recently moved from Manhattan to Albany. I used uber 30-40 times a month (ended up getting uber vip service!). I absolutely loved it and wish it would come to Albany, but I don't think the density of the market will make it work. The best benefit of uber is having a black car available in under 5 minutes. That starts to go away though once drivers have to drive longer distances to take people home (and then return). If it came to Albany, people would still probably have to wait 20-25+ minutes for an uber, just like other current services. Of course, this could be fixed if there were more and more uber cars on the road, but the demand isn't great enough to support a large fleet here. Most drivers told me they took in 100k in fares per year and after car/fuel costs, they took home 60k pre-tax -- that is in the most populated city. The economics wouldn't make sense in Albany to have so many uber cars available such that people didn't have to wait - drivers wouldn't make enough. But assuming people were okay with waiting, I'd also be surprised if a lot of people were willing to pay the premium price of a black car going home. It is 'affordable' when you're taking it from midtown to soho for $20-$25, but a ride from midtown to JFK/LaGuardia runs $80-$100. Granted, most people probably wouldn't take a 40 minute uber ride from downtown Albany, but I assume the cost would generally be too inhibiting relative to regular taxi options. However, if Matt and Vic are somehow able to bring it to Albany, I will definitely be the first to book a car!!

As soon as they create a 1-800 number to use it, so I don't have to have a fancyphone to use it, I will jump on that bandwagon. :)

Can I just ask a question? Who uses taxis?
I ride my bike around the capital district. I've lived here for 12 years and have never used a taxi. They're really expensive
When I visit other cities, I use the bus or I find a bike somewhere.
Why would someone take a taxi in NYC? The subway runs 24 hours a day. There are buses that will take you where you want to go for a fraction of the cost. What gives?
I did have to use a taxi once in pORtland to get to the airport at 4 am, and I had to use taxis to get to/ from the aeropuerto in Puerto Rico because the bus system there is HORRIBLE.

I also think that this post points to the encroaching discrimination against people who don't own and use smartphones. Only people who can afford to own and pay for the data charges can use Uber? That seems really unfortunate. I could go on about class politics, but I won't.

I just got back from Boston where using Lyft and Uber was amazing. I did not feel contained by the terrible cab service.

All the drivers were professional and the cars we were in we many times better than cabs. $13 between 3 people to take a Range Rover home, not bad.

I would spend a lot more of my suburban money in the city of Albany if I knew I had a reliable way of going out and getting home.

I bet I am not the only one who is in Albany for the high pay engineering jobs, who would love to go out for drinks but cant rely on the cabs.

I hope Uber or Lyft comes to the Capital District and btw Lyft screens drivers much better than most cab companies.

So what is the latest news, when is Lyft or Uber coming to Albany?

Can we re-ignite this conversation? Uber exists in Albany-esque cities like Providence, RI, Worcester, MA, Manchester, NH, etc. now. They can work in the Albany market. Regarding the Providence market, you can go form Providence to Newport in an Uber...therefore, I think we could make it work from Albany to Saratoga, etc. My parents (who are old!) want it so they can enjoy a few more glasses of wine without worry about driving home. I want it because I want to try the new places in Troy without worrying about how to get home. We all want a reliable ride to the airport, or home from the train station. (Let's also factor in the fact that in the recent large heroin bust in Albany, heroin was being dealt out of city cabs.)

Has anyone here made any attempts to contact Uber?

If so, did they respond?

I just left a message through their website asking them to come here. I had to select a city to leave a message so I selected Akron, OH. Whatever- as long as my message gets through to someone.

We have to do something about the cab situation here. Not only is it inconvenient for us, it's really embarrassing when business associates and friends from the major cities have to come here and endure it. Most of them just laugh about it and make fun of it, but it really is a reflection on us and our city. It really reinforces the SmAlbany local yokel stereotype.

I have a feeling we will face massive resistance since Albany's specialty is catering to special interest groups - in this case cab drivers. They have a stranglehold and they DON'T want to lose it.

I am deadly serious about pursuing this and would be willing to actively participate in the process if someone wants to give it a shot.

Taxi drivers are miserable, but so are there customers.

Uber seems great but the management have big egos and don't understand the ins and outs of the transportation/taxi business.

I hope uber succeeds simply due to the aforementioned "entrenched bosses" of the old taxi system, which is entirely true. Those bosses are part of the reason taxi-drivers are so miserable (in addition to their whiny, cheap customers).

Why isn't Uber in the Capital Region already? What will it take to make Uber happen in Albany?

I would love to be an UBER driver. Let's bring UBER to Albany, NY!

Uber was suggested to me as a side job. After finding out that Albany doesn't have Uber (or Lyft), I was disappointed. I looked up Uber and Lyft. Both look like a good thing. I would love being able to set my own hours and get paid to give someone a lift if they're going in a similar direction (or destination). I really hope some moves are made to make these two companies available in Albany. I know it would help me out... not to mention other folks as well.

I'm not sure what you means by "Albany doesn't have Uber".
All it takes is one driver to install the app, and "go online" and Albany now has Uber.

Also, why would anyone NOT have a smartphone in 2015?

You can get a used smartphone on ebay for about $50, and you can get cricket wireless for $35 a month, Cricket uses the ATT towers which are great in the Albany area. Also, if $35 a month is too much, just get a voice plan, and use WIFI hotspots, or Albany freenet,

"All it takes is one driver to install the app, and "go online" and Albany now has Uber."
It would be interesting to see the evidence of this statement, since this is not at all how it works.

"Also, why would anyone NOT have a smartphone in 2015?"
Many, many reasons.

Okay, snark aside, this site will help clarify things.

Enter Albany and it will list suggestions for Albany and Albany County, NY. Once you search, a message appears on the screen that they do not operate here yet. It also directs you to the closest cities with Uber.

@Mark, not as simple as downloading the app and poof an Uber driver is there. The company handles hiring and pricing of its product remotely, so I can't just go out there and slap "Uber" on my personal vehicle and advertise through the app to the Albany citizenry. Currently, NYS regulations more or less prohibit Uber from operating, unless they comply with many of the rules on the books that traditional taxi companies must follow. I believe Uber has made arrangements to comply with these regulations in NYC (after first illegally entering the market and ignoring the regs), but are looking to relax them upstate before expanding. Hence the campaign to get Uber in Albany (and more broadly in upstate NY) has more to do with how to squeeze a 21st technological innovation of a traditional economic sector into those older regulations.

As you can see, there is plenty of debate about whether the "sharing" economy should be able to exempt itself from many of the regulations that apply to the traditional businesses, especially since these regulations were arguably designed to protect the worker and consumer alike.

Uber would make a killing in Saratoga in the summer when parking is a nightmare!!!!

I have the app installed as an Uber Partner; as of yesterday I can now drive here in Albany. Before I received an error telling me that I was not permitted to drive in western MA, which I wasn't planning on anyway. I'm thinking that it wasn't letting me because Albany wasn't a hub. Just my thoughts

We need uber in Albany Schenectady troy. We need some good competition here. Every time I need a cab they usually Dont answer their phones or they tell me they can't do it too busy. So we definality need uber up here.

I used Uber in Philadelphia and loved it! I need a cab from Rensselaer to Wynantskill and there is nothing available. It is very frustrating to find out I have not way of getting around. Please bring Uber to Albany!

Uber is a CRIMINAL enterprise.
Stop ALL attempts legalizing this parasitic scam.

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