Prescott on the map: Uber gaining speed in Arizona, reaching into 'remote areas'

Ben Spaeth, 30, logs into his Uber application on his windshield-mounted phone. He’s an Uber driver in Prescott in his spare time. He also works at Starbucks and attends flight school at North-Aire Aviation.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->(Max Efrein/The Daily Courier)

Ben Spaeth, 30, logs into his Uber application on his windshield-mounted phone. He’s an Uber driver in Prescott in his spare time. He also works at Starbucks and attends flight school at North-Aire Aviation.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->(Max Efrein/The Daily Courier)

PRESCOTT - Uber representatives told area transportation and workforce development officials they are seriously considering recruiting drivers and marketing their product in the greater Prescott area.

The parties met at the Prescott Goodwill Career Center on Friday, Jan. 29, to exchange information on how Uber approaches such prospects and what the company has to offer the area.

"This is more of a meet and greet, but we're really excited to be looking at this part of Arizona and there's definitely, I think, a lot of impact we can make here," said Grady White, a Driver Operations and Logistics manager at Uber.

Those at the meeting all seemed to agree with this assertion.

"It's a sustainable business model for a modern society," said Alexandria Wright, director of the Regional Economic Development Center at Yavapai College, referring to the company.

To Vince Gallegos, a planner with the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization (CYMPO), any additional forms of transportation in the area are warmly welcomed.

"Given our geography, things really are so much more spread out in this area and I think that's our biggest challenge as planners," Vince said.

Gallegos and his colleagues are working with the Town of Prescott Valley to design a public transportation route. One roadblock they face is figuring out how people are going to affordably get to bus stops and then back to wherever they need to be at the end of their travel.

"Bus stops may end up miles and miles away from where someone lives," Vince said.

Therefore, he sees Uber, which has begun to work on filling transit connection needs in other areas of the country by partnering with local agencies, as perhaps one viable solution to the public transportation concerns.

"I think the partnership there is something to really be explored," Vince said.

Founded in 2010, Uber is an application-based transportation company headquartered in San Francisco, California. Today, it operates in roughly 270 cities and more than 60 countries worldwide. The company uses a smartphone application (app) to receive ride requests, and then sends these requests to their drivers who transport the customers to their final destinations.

Uber currently only fully operates in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff, but is constantly looking to expand its reach.

"One of our goals is that we want you to be able to land anywhere in the world, open up the Uber app, and be able to get a ride in three minutes," White said.

The company has a long way to go before that will be the case, but at the rate it's growing, the goal is not totally unrealistic. Recent reports have indicated that the company is worth close to $51 billion and is actively expanding its funding.

Aside from its convenience and "cool factor," one concept the company pushes is that its service is cheaper than taking a cab. This has been shown to be the case in most areas, but not necessarily all, according to a study done by Business Insider.

Before Uber decides to make any earnest moves into Prescott, it will first have to determine what the demand for the service is like in the area and whether or not the workforce is here to support it.

"The biggest challenge for us when we enter a new market is getting drivers," White said.

To begin testing the market, the company will be having representatives attend both of Yavapai College's job and career fairs this spring. One takes place on the college's Prescott campus on March 31 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., while the other will be on its Verde Valley campus in late April (an exact date and time have not been determined yet).

In a way, Uber

is already here

The company hasn't officially "launched" into the Prescott market, but its Flagstaff service area reaches as far south as Black Canyon City. Therefore, anyone living within that service area who wishes to become an Uber driver can do so. Once on board, drivers can provide rides to anyone in the state looking for one using the Uber app.

That's what Prescott resident Ben Spaeth, 30, recently did.

After getting out of the Marine Corps in Yuma, Spaeth came up to the Prescott area for flight school about a year ago.

"During my first semester, I didn't want a job," Spaeth said. "I just wanted to focus on flying and stuff, so I needed something that was very flexible that I could just jump in and out of."

Not knowing Uber worked in this area, he signed up with Lyft first. However, Lyft works only in Phoenix; so every free weekend, he'd drive down to his sister's home and operate as a Lyft driver for a couple days.

"I did pretty well some weekends," Spaeth said. "I must have made about $400 on Super Bowl weekend last year."

Once he got a grip on his schooling situation, he decided to drop the Lyft gig and pick up a job at Starbucks.

Just a couple weeks ago, he found out Uber does work here and figured he'd give it a try. He quickly found out that both the supply and demand of Uber is pretty scarce.

"Sometimes I'll have the app on for like an hour or two and I won't get any requests," Spaeth said.

This is mainly because nobody knows there are Uber drivers working the area; and the few who are don't appear to be operating too often, he said.

"I occasionally see one or two other drivers in the area," Spaeth said.

If Uber does decide to launch into the Prescott market, it will dump money into building its driver force, marketing its services, engaging the community and partnering with local businesses and agencies, White said.

Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105, or 928-642-7864.