DOVER — John Welgan believes he and four other Uber drivers are now transporting within city limits.
Through a quick Uber.com phone application check, he learns if they are currently available to pick up fares and whether he’s the closest to a customer pickup site.
When his SmartPhone beeps, Mr. Welgan knows he’s nearest to customers requesting service, views a first name and pickup address and touches his screen to accept.
From there, the customer can track his progress and arrival, which he said averages eight minutes response time. Most fares are $10 to $12 quick trips within Dover, Mr. Welgan said.
Currently, Mr. Welgan said very few Dover residents know of the ride-share service that offers taxi-like transportation with charges by the mile and by the minute.
In his electric-charged red-colored 2013 Chevrolet Volt, Mr. Welgan’s said his regular fares include $2 for pickup, $2 per mile and 28 cents a minute. Surge rates of an extra $1 to $3 a mile may apply during busy times.
Mr. Welgan took his first fares the week of April 20, and said business has been growing steadily since. He said he’s planning to increase his available hours to add more riders.Uber ride-sharing drivers can be found by using Uber’s smartphone app. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)[/caption]
Most of the 52-year-old Dover resident’s pickups come from out of state and country contacts, he said, often staying temporarily at Dover Air Force Base and in search of entertainment, food and alcohol without the worries of driving.
Others staying here for business, who are registered within the Uber system online, also make contact from Dover Downs Hotel and Casino to venture out to TGI Fridays, Greene Turtle and Buffalo Wild Wings, among other outings.
Mr. Welgan said he once earned $230 before taxes by taking three businessmen from the United Arab Emirates on a trip from Dover to the Tanger Outlets in Sussex County in a four-hour jaunt.
On Monday, a ride share to Baltimore-Washington International Airport earned $155 for four hours work, Mr. Welgan said.
“The locals don’t know about it, but people are slowly learning,” he said.
While tips are gladly taken, Mr. Welgan said most riders do not. He figures he has a better shot at making a few extra bucks if a return trip from a drinking session at a bar or restaurant is involved.
“Alcohol brings tips out,” he said.
The longtime Dover contractor described the Uber work as building financial security for the future.
“Uber is my retirement fund,” he said. “I’m getting too old for contracting. My back is sore, roofing is for younger people.”
Divorced and with no kids, the 1982 Caesar Rodney High graduate said there’s ample free time beyond his primary business to wheel around for Uber.
Mr. Welgan said he answered 28 calls while available for 41.9 hours two weeks ago, clearing $240.30 before taxes. He earned $606.57 on Firefy Music Festival week, making 34 transports in 38.1 hours that included some surge rates due to heavy volume of contacts.
Mr. Welgan said he receives 80 percent of a fare and Uber gets the other 20 percent.
In mid-November 2014, a WBOC television news report on Uber’s emergence in Ocean City, Maryland, spurred Mr. Welgan to immediately contact Uber online and begin the steps of becoming a driver.
During a two-week process, Uber conducted a criminal background check on Mr. Welgan while evaluating his driver’s license and driving record before issuing approval. He provided documentation on his car insurance and vehicle registration, all through online and text contact.
Signing up with Uber earns a rider $20 off the first transport.
During the entire time period of more than half a year, Mr. Welgan said, he only briefly talked to a Uber representative when picking up a state-required placard in Wilmington. Other than that, all contacts were made via text messages and emails.
Minimal investment was required — Mr. Welgan bought some personal insurance that Uber didn’t cover and $200 in printed waivers to further cover his liability from customers.
Also, Mr. Welgan said he earned his taxi license through the Division of Motor Vehicles. He paid $26 to the city of Dover for a business license, and $45 to the state of Delaware. On June 16, he took out an automobile liability insurance policy for physical damage.
No money changes hands during a ride, Mr. Welgan said, since Uber collects the fare through credit or debit cards and eventually sends his cut though bank direct deposit.
So far, picking up strangers has brought no safety concerns, he said.
“That’s just part of the business,” Mr. Welgan said.
“It’s a risk you have to take, you have to trust the public. If you don’t trust the public, you’d better not do it.”
Besides, Mr. Welgan said, “There’s no reason to rob a driver since there’s no cash in hand.”
Mr. Welgan logs in with Uber when he wants to drive and logs out when he’s not available. While on duty, he can wait at home unless his phone buzzes and he chooses to take the fare or venture out to a city transportation hot spot.
Uber requires drivers use a 2006 or newer vehicle, and it behooves them to keep it clean and comfortable — bad customer feedback ratings will drop them from the system, said Mr. Welgan, mentioning his current 4.93 rating on a maximum 5.0 scale.
Uber’s arrival in some European locales has sparked fierce responses, Mr. Welgan said, including smashed windows in France, he said. Uber suspended its service in France after violent attacks against drivers, according to published reports.
When it comes to competition with regular taxi services, Mr. Welgan said, “It’s a free enterprise system. I’m a subcontractor and whoever bids the job cheapest gets it.”
Regarding other cabs drivers he believes, “They don’t like me at all. There’s some pointing and staring, but no verbal threats.”