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The UBER Situation

Featured Photo from The UBER Situation

Several Seminole County cities are banding together with ride-sharing service Uber to solve SunRail’s last-mile dilemma, and LML’s own Chip Colandreo takes it all for a spin

What started as a first-in-the-world pilot program between the City of Altamonte Springs and Uber has now expanded to Longwood, Lake Mary, Sanford, and Maitland. If you’re not already familiar with Uber, a quick Google search will fill you in, but it’s essentially a more affordable, on-demand taxi service in which pre-screened drivers use their own cars and a mobile app to match up with commuters who need a lift. In plain English, you open the app, hit a button, and a car comes to pick you up and drive you anywhere you want to go. It’s laughably easy, and thanks to an innovative partnership with the five cities listed above, it’s now even more affordable.

“We’re trying to solve a transportation problem that’s two-fold,” says Mayor Joe Durso of Longwood. “We want to be able to get residents to and from the SunRail station to encourage them to use the train, and that in turn will reduce the number of cars on our already-busy roads.”

Here’s the deal: Any Uber ride that begins and ends within the individual city limits of each of the five cities involved receives a 20% discount off Uber’s already low fares. Any ride that begins or ends at a SunRail station and stays within the city limits gets a bigger discount, 25% off. Does it work? How much can you really save? There was only one way for me to find out.

The Code is The Key

After downloading the Uber app to my phone, I opened it up and created an account with ease. I just followed the prompts – name, email address, password, etc. – and put a credit card on file in the app.

But before I started Uber-ing, one other critical step was required: In the app’s main menu is a Promotions tab. There I entered all the relevant promo codes: SANFORD, LAKEMARY, LONGWOOD, ALTAMONTE, and MAITLAND. These codes granted my phone a new, magical power. Typically, whenever the Uber app is opened, it shows your current location on a map, how long it will take an Uber car to come pick you up, and a switch at the bottom to hail either an UberX (a regular sedan meant for no more than four passengers) or an UberXL (an SUV or equivalent that can haul up to six). But thanks to the promo codes, whenever I open the app inside any of the participating city limits, a third option called Longwood or Sanford, etc. appears.

With that option selected, rides in that city are eligible for the discount.

From my Longwood home, which is in the city limits, I opened the app to find the Longwood option waiting for me. I hailed an Uber car at 7:45 a.m., set my destination as the Longwood SunRail station, and saw an estimated pickup time of five minutes. By the time I packed my computer bag, the Uber driver was pulling into my driveway. I reached the station in plenty of time to catch the 8:19 southbound train to downtown Orlando. The fare was $4.13, which was 25% or $1.37 off the usual cost. I arrived at the downtown station at 8:51 a.m., about 23 minutes later than if I had simply hopped in my own car at 7:45 and made the commute through typical I-4 traffic. Instead, I spent the 30-minute train ride catching up on email and surfing the Web, thanks to the surprisingly stable WiFi on the train.

For another test, I hailed an Uber from the Lake Mary Life offices on Lake Mary Boulevard and set the destination for a local restaurant off International Parkway near Heathrow. I did check ahead of time to make sure my destination was also in the Lake Mary city limits, which meant I would receive a 20% discount on this ride. My driver, an affable young man named Christopher, arrived about seven minutes later, and we were there in no time. The fare for this trip was $5.48, representing a $1.37 discount.

“This is a new way of approaching an old problem in Florida,” explains Mayor Durso, who says the City of Longwood is exploring ways to pay for the Uber subsidy via sponsorships or other programs that don’t involve taxpayer money.

The eventual goal, Mayor Durso says, is for the cities to run and fund the program together, so discounted rides would be available between the cities, not confined to each town’s distinct city limits. For example, a trip from my Longwood home to the Lake Mary office currently is not eligible for a discount.

All in all, the service was easy to use, I felt safe and secure during each ride, and the savings were real. It worked for me, which means it might very well work for you, too.

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