Uber launched its service in Fargo at precisely 11:30 a.m. today, marking the company’s entrance into the Dakotas. The company is known for disrupting the traditional taxi cab service model by utilizing an app-based model that allows anyone over the age of 21 with a vehicle, insurance and clean record to work as an independent contractor and provide transportation to customers who select them through the company’s app. The San Francisco-based company currently serves more than 300 cities worldwide.
Members of Fargo’s startup community gathered at Myriad Mobile headquarters in downtown Fargo for a lunch-and-learn session with Uber representatives to celebrate the company’s North Dakota launch. Sagar Shah, general manager of Uber expansion in North Dakota, credited Joe Burgum for aggressively courting the company for several years and for organizing support within Fargo and at the state level to pass legislation that allows companies like Uber to operate within the state. State Senator Jon Casper, who led the legislative efforts, spoke briefly at the session and told attendees the legislative experience was “great” but required a large amount of education for legislators in rural areas of the state that were not familiar with ride-hailing services.
Jim Gartin, CEO of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., also applauded the efforts of Burgum and other community members who helped pave the way for Uber’s entrance into Fargo, noting that services like Uber enhance the quality of life for residents and help attract skilled, educated workers to the community. “This is the type of thing they want,” he said.
Shah said Fargo’s growing tech community helped attract the company to the community but the city has been on Uber’s watch list for some time. He noted that in the last six months, the company’s app recorded 7,500 unique “looks” from people in Fargo; 30 percent of them were from locals.
On the day of the launch, Shah said “dozens” of people had been approved as Uber drivers in Fargo. He expects that number will continue to grow as more people become aware of the service. According to the company, drivers can expect to make around $20 per hour and are covered under Uber’s insurance policy when they are providing the service, so their personal insurance is not affected. It was noted that Uber has five times as many women drivers as traditional cab companies, which Shah credited to the company’s safety measures.
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney was “customer zero” in Fargo. He was offered the chance to use the service and tried it to gain a better understanding of how it works. “I thought the app was really useful because it allowed me to see information about the driver,” he said. “That takes the guess work out of it for users.”
Mahoney said he hopes Uber will help fill the need for drivers during peak times of demand, such as bar closing times. “I’d rather people get a ride after they’ve been drinking than drive themselves,” he said.
According to Shah, the company has no performance benchmark for the Fargo market. It’s only goal is to provide “as many rides as possible,” he said. The company is celebrating its launch by offering users three free rides during the first week of service by using the promo code FARGOFREE.
Uber intends to expand its North Dakota service to Bismarck next, although there is no timeline set yet for service to begin there. Uber does not currently provide service to any cities in South Dakota, although Shah said communities such as Sioux Falls offer potential new markets. In Minnesota, the company currently provides services in the Minneapolis area.