Uber and Lyft come to the North Quabbin

  • Scott Pralinsky (inset) and his Honda with Uber logo.  ​​​​​​COURTESY SCOTT PRALINSKY

  • Sharon LaBrake at the wheel of her Hyundai.  COURTESY SHARON LABRAKE

Published: 9/12/2018 10:54:17 PM

The computer-age ride-sharing enterprises Uber and Lyft have come to the North Quabbin, providing service to people who need a ride, as well as a job, to several individuals who live here.

I recently spoke to two of these drivers, Scott Pralinsky of North Orange and Sharon LaBrake of Athol, who would like more people to learn about and use the reasonably-priced service they offer.

There is also a need for more area residents to come on board as drivers, since this will improve availability.

Uber, founded in 2009, is described in Wikipedia as, “A peer-to-peer ride-sharing, taxi cab, food delivery, bicycle-sharing and transportation network company.” Lyft, founded in 2012, is described as an “on-demand transportation company.” In big cities, use of Uber and Lyft is widespread, but it is working in small towns and rural areas, too.

“The sharing economy” is the phrase often used for these modern internet-based transportation services. That phrase also pertains to the AirBnB website, serving those who need lodging or have a place they want to rent (a room, an apartment, even an entire house). Though the North Quabbin is not a famous tourist area where AirBnB excels, I was surprised to see that there are some places in our nine-town area listed there.

To use Uber and Lyft, you must have what is known as a smart phone. I do not own one of those now ubiquitous devices, which combine cell phone technology with the internet and GPS (global positioning system). However, I became familiar with Uber while with friends in distant cities, including Miami Beach and Toronto.

I watched the screen on my friends’ phones as they signed onto the Uber app (short for application). To obtain a ride via Uber, the user turns on the app on the phone, and the user’s location automatically comes up. Type in the destination, choose the kind of car you want (small or large), and the app shows you a picture of the Uber driver, his or her car, how much you will be charged, and how long it will take for you to be picked up. In those cities, it was just a few minutes. Keep looking at the phone, and you’ll observe an image of the Uber car on a street map as it comes toward you. I can’t help but say it’s magical.

If you want to know more about how Uber and Lyft work, there are many articles to be found on the internet. One interesting piece, on the forbes.com website, details “11 things to know before signing up to become an Uber or Lyft driver.” There are also items about the experiences of users, mostly positive. Some negative experiences have led the two companies to do background checks on drivers.

Scott has started a Facebook page called “North Quabbin Transportation,” where more information can be found. He attended last week’s First Friday in Athol to reach out to the public. Currently taking online courses at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Scott has been working as an Uber driver for less than a year. He does this part-time, earning an average of $12 an hour. His car is a 2010 Honda Fit, “very affordable to Uber with, as it’s got incredibly good fuel economy — 35-40 miles per gallon — which helps to keep costs down.”

He added, “Uber works with my school schedule, and helps pay my bills, and I love not having a boss.”

The customer who signs up with Uber or Lyft provides a credit card so the company collects the money, and then pays a portion into the bank account of the driver. Scott recounted a recent experience taking a passenger from Gardner to Winchendon. The rider paid $30.41 to the company, including a tip, and Scott received $17.79. “It’s not making me rich,” he quipped.

Sharon has been driving, primarily for Uber, for two and a half years. Like Scott, she only occasionally gets local customers, and usually drives to Leominster or other more densely-populated cities to start her work day. Her car is a Hyundai Accent. A grandmother of 14, Sharon notices that the majority of her customers are young, and she’s proud of the fact that she may be saving lives when young people use Uber to go home from a night of partying.

Scott agrees that young people are more likely to use his services. Once he drove a teenager from Sterling to Worcester and back. The youth met someone for a brief transaction, and Scott wondered if it might be a drug deal.

“I’m just a driver, not a parent and not the police,” he commented.

Some customers use the service to travel to and from work. Others simply don’t own a car or lack a driver’s license. The drivers have taken people for medical appointments, shopping and social or family activities.

I’ll end this with a tip from Scott for potential Lyft drivers and users: if you install the Lyft app and then provide the code “DRIVECENTRALMASS,” you can get a $350 sign-up bonus as a driver and a trip credit as a user.

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