More options now available for transportation on the Central Coast

Jun 10, 2014

Monterey Street in downtown San Luis Obispo
Credit Flickr member Josh Mock

It’s no secret in San Luis Obispo that catching a cab can have its challenges.  In response, a number of companies are stepping in to fill what many see as a need for more reliable and affordable service.

Uber, a transportation company that allows users to track their ride via their smart phones, is one of those options.

“I think when people think of Uber, they think of a major metropolitan area. There’s major opportunity to really make a difference here,” said Andy Iro.

He is the Marketing Manager for Uber on the Central Coast. Iro and his team arrived in San Luis Obispo a few weeks ago for a meeting with new Uber Partners to continue plans for adding this cab alternative to the area.

Iro explained that based on Uber’s pricing, compared to a cab service, it’s cheaper, and what that does for a local economy. When people spend less on transportation, they’re more inclined to spend money elsewhere. During the first 24 hours of his visit, he heard people wondering how they’d get around.

“How do I get downtown? Why is the wait so long? It’s one of those things where I can hear the value add already and I know that it’s going to make a difference, ” Iro said.

Others are picking up on Uber’s potential, too. Doc Needham, a driver for Yellow Cab, described Uber as the “buzz word,” among local cabbies.

“It could be construed as a hostile takeover, but I really don’t think they’re going to come in that strongly. I think it’s going to be a mild introduction. It’s going to take time for the general public to get savvy to the technology,” Needham said.

Needham has been driving for Yellow Cab for the past three years. He explained the general landscape of the cab services in this college town and admitted that with its busy bar scene, sometimes the cab drivers get overwhelmed.

In 2010 Mike Linn and his business partners saw this need and did something about it.

“We realized that there was a need for transportation within this market, and initially it was predicated on the belief that only the cabs were not doing their job, in terms of providing transportation,” Linn said. “Not to denigrate the cabs, they try really hard, but there’s just not enough of them in San Luis Obispo. It often seemed that downtown wasn’t being serviced very well, so we started out with four vans in an effort to pick up people from downtown, and make sure they got home safely, because we often saw it just wasn’t a good environment at the end of the night.”

Linn said they saw more transportation was needed across the board, so they began branching out from the downtown bar scene to services like wine tours, weddings and charters.

The downtown cab alternative is where it started for their company. On weekend nights in downtown San Luis Obispo, their large SLO Safe Ride vans can be seen every so often parked in front of Luna Red, dropping off or picking up people from the bars.

One Safe Ride driver, Chelsea, who calmly transports intoxicated, college-aged students to the bars, said that she really enjoys the novelties her job provides her.

“I love the job. There are hard nights, but most of the time I like what I do,” she said.

Throughout the night, she sent from home to home by the Safe Ride dispatcher. She picks groups up, engages in conversation with the typically loud groups, collects five dollars from each patron and makes sure they get in and out of the van safely.

“We make sure that everyone has a terrific time,” Linn said.

Although Uber is making its way into San Luis Obispo to provide transportation to potential customers, Linn said he doesn’t really see it as a problem.

“Our services are slightly different. One thing that’s going to keep us doing very well in a competitive sense, is we’re coming out with an app in the fall. We feel that our pricing is going to be better and specifically our customer service is going to be better,” said Linn. “We’re trying to be as adaptable as SLO is.”

Although the cabs are market competition for Safe Ride, Linn said that cabs provide a viable service and that they’re not going away anytime soon.

Needham says Yellow Cab works hand-in-hand with SLO Safe Ride to meet the transportation needs downtown.

“Our drivers aren’t going to be particularly happy to have another competitor in the market,” Needham said.

He said that the taxis and SLO Safe Ride are the main services in the downtown area besides the buses and other public transport and they will be here for a while.

“Yellow Cab, surf cab, 234,” Needham said, “those are pretty solid companies.”

Iro explained how Uber approaches launching in a new place.

“We look to compliment whatever is existing. We don’t come with any cause. We don’t own any drivers at all. We look to connect with the community at large, to provide even greater access to the area,” Iro said.

Iro said that Uber aims to be the cheapest, safest and most reliable ride. He said that San Luis Obispo is a “beautiful, but spread county” with opportunity for people to explore.

“If you don’t want to worry about parking or finding parking at the beach and you can get an Uber for 12 dollars. Why wouldn’t you do that, or why would you not want that?” He said.

While the transportation options increase in the county, it will be up to the San Luis Obispo consumer to choose which ride to take.