Will Uber come to Monroe County? - Republic-Times | News

Will Uber come to Monroe County?

By on February 7, 2018 at 12:38 pm

The community is no longer taking a backseat when it comes to providing public transportation to area residents, with Uber being its main target.

Dozens of local stakeholders have banded together with the notion that Uber must include Monroe County. Among the Uber advocates, Mary Beard of Waterloo has gone full throttle in seeking support of her petition to the company.

“Primarily, it is the drinking and driving combo that hurts so many,” Beard disclosed to the Republic-Times.

In agreement with Beard, the Monroe County Coalition for Drug-Free Communities first brought forth the idea at its January meeting.

“I can’t imagine a drawback to doing something like this because it’s responsible,” said coalition vice chairperson Vicki Koerber, who also serves as a commissioner on the Monroe County Board.

Uber spokesperson Molly Spaeth said the ride-sharing service currently has no specific timeline for launching in the county.

“As ride-sharing continues to grow, we strive to provide reliable and affordable transportation options and economic opportunities in markets around the world, and our team is constantly evaluating how we can best serve riders and drivers in every community,” she said.

The global transportation company currently serves much of southwestern Illinois and all of St. Louis. For a map of the St. Louis service area, go to uber.com/cities/st-louis.

In order to bring Uber on board, Beard has prepared a report titled “We need Uber: Saving Lives and Helping Others.” The report lists several reasons for bringing the service to this area:

• Help people get home safely after a night of drinking

• Help those with medical conditions, such as epilepsy, with their transportation needs

• Help those with other disabilities who are not allowed or unable to drive

• Help the aging population get from place to place

• Help adults of all ages, college students, and retirees earn extra income by becoming Uber drivers

“I believe the concept of Uber helps both the drivers, as well as the community it serves … I urge you to make Monroe County part of your repertoire of private-drive areas,” Beard writes.

Her report attempts to lure Uber with information about the county’s geography, tourism attractions and socioeconomic data.

She describes Waterloo as “a rapidly growing city in the heart of Monroe County” and Columbia’s historic downtown as “rich in history while the outskirts are abundant in natural settings for exploring and fun.”

In another section of the report, Beard indicates a recent increase in nightlife has made public transportation options more critical.

“I truly believe Uber can succeed in Monroe County. With Waterloo and Columbia close in proximity to one another, the close ties of Monroe County as a whole, and the rise in tourism, the need for a private-drive service is apparent,” the report concludes.

Beard also said Uber should include the rural parts of the county. Alongside the report, she has started an online petition at ipetitions.com/petition/UberMonroeCounty. So far, the petition has 282 signatures with a goal of 1,000.

In addition, Beard has received letters of support referencing the development of the area and increase in restaurants and bars from Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith and Monroe County Board Chairman Bob Elmore. She is hoping to receive letters from Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson and the coalition.

“Uber’s services would create a much safer option for visitors and residents to get home after a fun night in downtown Waterloo,” Smith’s letter states.

When contacted about the proposal, Smith said, “We’re very excited to bring Uber to the city. I’m excited to support that.”

Waterloo Community Relations Coordinator Sarah Deutch followed up by saying the city does not believe it will need to pass an ordinance regulating or allowing Uber in Waterloo. Similarly, Columbia City Administrator Jimmy Morani said the city probably could not prevent Uber from operating.

“We haven’t drafted anything yet. We’re probably not going to do a whole lot,” he explained. “There’s been some discussion about regulations — like putting a sticker on the cars or requiring background checks for drivers — but we haven’t come up with anything yet.”

In the meantime, the competing ride-sharing company Lyft is already providing service to Monroe County and beyond. Go to Lyft.com/cities/southern-illinois-il for a link to a map of Lyft’s southern Illinois service area. Company spokesperson Campbell Matthews said Lyft expanded to southern Illinois in December.

“Given that we launched recently, we are in the process of building up the driver and passenger community in southern Illinois and are glad to be offering safe, affordable and reliable rides, as well as flexible earning opportunities for those who sign up to drive with Lyft,” she said.

Public transit options

Another public transportation option includes the Monroe-Randolph Transit District, which has provided curb-to-curb service to residents of both counties since 2005. Services must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance and are offered from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The cost is $6 for a one-way trip, which may be paid on boarding with exact change, or with tickets purchased in advance or in the vehicle.

The service includes a total of nine drivers and 22 vehicles.

In addition to individuals, the system provides transportation for assisted living groups. MRT vehicles are also authorized to travel to specific medical service locations in St. Clair and St. Louis counties. For such medical transports, the rider must have Medicaid to cover the cost of the trip.

“We do have a fair number of people using that,” MRT Director Jessica Gentry said. “It’s not a rare occasion.”

Gentry also indicated the transit service has been well off since it temporarily closed in 2015 due to a lack of state funds.

“Once Illinois had a budget in place, our cash flow came in steady. We do receive grant payments at a steady rate,” she said.

Request a ride from MRT by  calling 618-443-9087.

For trips to and from St. Louis, the MetroBus transportation system has several stops available in Monroe County.

The northbound route includes stops at Fourth and Library streets in Waterloo, Route 3 and South Main Street in Columbia, Columbia Centre, and Fifth and Main streets in Dupo before arriving at the MetroLink station in St. Louis.

Drop-offs are at the same locations.

Buses begin picking up at the first stop in Waterloo at 5:38 a.m., with the last pickup of the day at 6:28 p.m. Monday through Friday. Go to metrostlouis.org/route/2x-waterloo-columbia/ for more on the routes.

For cash based fare, a one-way ticket is $2. Weekly passes cost $27 and monthly passes are $78.

Sean McGowan

Sean is a die-hard Cubs fan, despite the relentless peer pressure coming from the rest of the Republic-Times staff. He and his wife, Jacqui, have been married for two years. Originally from the west suburbs of Chicago, Sean and his wife moved down to Normal to attend Illinois State University and stayed central Illinois residents for the past four years. email:sean@republictimes.net