Bloomington-Normal bars and restaurants aren’t the only ones happy to see the college students back in town.
Local Uber and Lyft drivers rely on those college students for their income—particularly those late-night rides to and from the bars.
Mike Quinn from Normal works full-time for Country Financial during the week. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, he’s behind the wheel for Uber and Lyft. He’s been driving for Uber for the past two years, and he recently joined Lyft too once it started operating here earlier this year.
Quinn, who has a new baby at home, says it’s a very flexible part-time job.
“I just wanted to make some extra money,” he said. “It was a really easy way to make money. I’d just basically sit in my car and drive from point to point. I don’t even have to get out of the car. I don’t have to sit at a desk. I don’t have to report to anybody. And when I don’t want to work, I don’t work.”
Once a big-city amenity, Uber and Lyft are now staples of the Bloomington-Normal transportation economy. There are more than 350 local Uber drivers, City of Bloomington records show. It’s unclear how many Lyft drivers are hired locally. Uber and Lyft did not return requests for comment.
Uber drivers make on average $15.68 per hour nationally, according to a recent large survey released by the blog and podcast The Rideshare Guy. Lyft drivers make around $17.50 per hour, the survey found.
Uber and Lyft drivers tend to be older. Three-quarters of drivers are above age 40, the survey found, and most ride-share drivers signed up as a way to make extra money.
But not everyone is doing it just for extra income. Matt Gray is driving full-time for Uber and Lyft in Bloomington-Normal. The aspiring musician loves talking to people, so it’s been a perfect fit.
“I really like to talk to the riders. If they’re students, I like to ask, ‘What are you studying? What are your goals?’ It’s a really fun conversation. I think they really enjoy the conversation too,” Gray said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “It’s almost like interviewing people every day. I do like talking to people, it’s just my general interest in others and what they do and where they’re headed.”
— Lyft BloNo (@LyftBloNo) August 15, 2017
Gray doesn’t even mind making small talk with drunk college students. Gray lost a close friend to a fatal drunk driving accident.
“I’m hoping that I’m helping in some way shape or form, getting these kids home safely,” he said.
Gray and Quinn have had some very memorable rides—more than they can count. Gray remembers the girl who spent her entire time in his backseat taking selfies.
Quinn was once hired by a guy in Chicago to drive the guy’s girlfriend from Bloomington to Chicago. It cost the guy $250, and Quinn himself made a not-so-quick $180. (Uber and Lyft take a cut from each ride.) Quinn turned right back around and drove home by himself in the middle of the night.
“I still made $180 driving to Chicago and back, which not many people can say they’ve done.”
Not everyone is happy to see Uber and Lyft grow their footprint locally.
Aaron Halliday, owner of Checker Cab in Bloomington, estimates that he’s lost 20 percent of his business to Uber and Lyft. That means fewer drivers and vehicles on each shift, Halliday said, but that’s also cut down on his insurance costs.
“It’s made me run a more lean operation,” Halliday said.
Checker Cab also plans to switch to a new dispatch software system next month that will pave the way for a new app that will give customers many of the same features as Uber, Halliday said.
Halliday is also looking for other ways to offset the income he’s lost to Uber and Lyft. In October he plans to launch the taxicab industry’s first trade podcast, paid for by sponsorships.
The City of Bloomington regulates local taxicabs and the transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft, for both itself and the Town of Normal next door.
George Boyle with the city’s legal department explained how taxicabs and TNCs—and their drivers—are regulated differently.
“With regard to the taxis, there the city is a little more hands-on in terms of the regulation of the drivers. We license the drivers specifically, as opposed to the company hiring the driver. We look more into the background checks. We do a bit more hands-on inspections of the vehicles. In the case of the TNCs, they do a lot of those functions, and our regulation is more of them of the companies themselves, to have a regulatory framework to see if those things are being done.”
You can also listen to GLT's full story about local Uber and Lyft drivers:
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