Lyft driver Ashley Eby drives to The Blade in downtown Toledo. Ms. Eby said it was her first night as a Lyft driver, and she had about 10 rides over the course of the night.
Around midnight on what should have been a busy weekend bar night, Daniel T. Kruzel didn’t have a rider in his Checker cab.
Waiting for his next assignment, he parked in front of Ye Olde Cock ’n Bull tavern in Toledo’s Warehouse District — and saw firsthand why his business was slow.
“Four or five, right in a row, regular cars kept pulling up. ‘Do these people all have rides?’ I knew they were Uber,” he said.
RELATED CONTENT: Full list of ride-hailing trips Oct. 5 to Nov. 1
In the past year, Uber and its lesser-known competitor, Lyft, have cruised into the Toledo personal transportation market, quickly creating a niche for themselves, especially on weekend bar nights.
“When they transport someone from Point A to Point B, it’s probably half of what we’re going to charge,” Mr. Kruzel said.
Perhaps even more importantly, Uber and Lyft are known to be fast — really fast — to respond.
Metro Cab driver Seth Corley drives a journalist to Moe’s Place in Rossford. He said Uber is getting some Toledoans more comfortable with hiring rides around town but it’s also taking away from taxis’ business, especially inside the city.
Right about the time the bars are closing, when taxi dispatchers are likely to say they can’t pick up a rider for an hour, maybe 90 minutes or more, Uber or Lyft are often pulling up within 10 minutes, maybe less.
Riders tend to like the Uber and Lyft apps, which give a countdown of how many minutes it will be until their driver arrives, show a picture of the driver, and give a description or show a picture of the vehicle.
Uber and Lyft are far from claiming the whole market; they’ve only cherry-picked the busiest times.
At 6 a.m. on a Sunday, a few hours after the last of the bar crowd has made its way home, there might not be an Uber or Lyft driver on call in the greater Toledo area. Many Uber and Lyft drivers say they call it a night by about 3 a.m. And by 6 a.m., the taxi dispatchers are likely to say they can pick up a rider within a couple minutes.
The taxis still have the riders who lack a smart phone or a credit card. There’s not a way to call Uber or Lyft without a smart phone app that’s linked to a credit card. Even debit and prepaid cards can be hit and miss with the app, some say.
Cost of doing business
But what really gets the taxi drivers are the costs of doing business, which they pay — and which they say Uber and Lyft don’t.
“We’ve got livery insurance. It’s very expensive to insure cabs,” Mr. Kruzel said. He talked about state sales tax, the city permit fee, the public vehicle operator’s license. Other drivers bring up how taxi rates in the city must be approved by Toledo City Council, how the meters are tested once a year, how there’s a police officer assigned to working with taxis.
To the taxi drivers, that’s the reason Uber and Lyft are able to often charge significantly less than the cabs.
Mr. Kruzel was one of dozens of taxi, Uber, and Lyft drivers interviewed by Blade journalists in an analysis of how Uber and Lyft have changed travel options in the metro Toledo.
About a third of the trips were made during the prime bar traffic hours on Halloween weekend, a normally busy time that was expected to be even more hectic because it coincided with the end of Daylight Saving Time, giving the bars a bonus hour.
On those trips, Uber and Lyft proved remarkably faster.
Twice a reporter and photographer were together outside a bar, one calling a cab and the other using the Lyft or Uber app. On both occasions, the journalist who took Lyft or Uber arrived at their next location about 20 minutes ahead of the one who called for a taxi.
Several times, a reporter called a taxi and was told the wait would be an hour or more. In such cases, the journalists always said they would look for something quicker. It’s unclear exactly how long it would have taken a cab to arrive in those instances.
A two-hour wait for a cab during the busiest times in the Toledo area is not unheard of, many say. But cab dispatchers also tended to give wide ranges for their expected time of arrival — 10 to 30 minutes is often announced.
One cab driver said arrivals are usually at the early end of that range, explaining that dispatchers don’t want to overpromise.
But at bar closing time on Halloween, when dispatchers sighed and made comments to the effect of “I’ll get you as soon as I can but it will be at least an hour,” journalists feared one of the much talked about two-hour waits and instead took Uber or Lyft.
The Uber and Lyft apps, which show exactly how long it will be until a ride arrives were one of the most appreciated aspects of their service.
Knowing the area
Taxi drivers appeared to be exponentially more familiar with the city than many Uber and Lyft drivers, several of whom seemed totally reliant on their GPS to guide them, with very little knowledge of the city.
An Uber driver not only had not heard of Swig gastropub in Perrysburg but he also needed the reporter to spell Louisiana Avenue several times as he entered the address in his GPS.
Like many of the Uber and Lyft drivers transporting journalists that weekend, he said he was new to the area. He had just finished school in Algeria.
Another driver said she was from the Cleveland area and was a senior at Bowling Green State University. She was learning the Toledo streets by driving for Uber on weekend nights.
A third said he had just completed medical school in Yemen, was applying for a residency in neurosurgery locally and that driving for Lyft was getting him out of his study carrel and teaching him about American life.
GPS always got us where we were headed and the 20-something-year-old drivers from out of the area were friendly and interesting conversationalists.
The Uber and Lyft drivers transporting journalists were all decades younger than the cab drivers called that weekend. That’s probably true of the typical Uber and Lyft passengers compared to taxi passengers, too, many said.
All of the vehicles that picked up Blade journalists that weekend were clean. Several Uber and Lyft vehicles appeared absolutely pristine. More than one driver, however, had a story — when queried — about a drunk vomiting in his or her vehicle.
Uber and Lyft were usually considerably cheaper than taxis.
Earlier in the month, a trip of about 10 miles from The Blade to Doc Watson’s in South Toledo via Lyft cost $14.07. The return trip within the hour cost $20.64 by Yellow Cab.
A trip of about 7 miles between Nick and Jimmy’s on Monroe Street and The Blade cost $14.62 by Lyft and $23.75 by Black & White Cab.
But at least once in the busiest hours of Halloween night, the typical pricing difference between taxis and Uber or Lyft was nearly reversed.
A reporter riding Uber from Moe’s Place in Rossford to Swig in Perrysburg was billed $19.01 for the approximately 5-mile trip.
A photographer who requested a Black & White cab from Moe’s arrived at Swig about 20 minutes after the reporter, but the cab fare was $17.22, including tip.
Contact Jane Schmucker at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.