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Uber drivers look for success in Golden Triangle

 

Terrel Curtis, 39, of Philadelphia, drove down to Columbus Friday for Uber's launch in the Golden Triangle. The Uber driver normally services the Jackson area.

Terrel Curtis, 39, of Philadelphia, drove down to Columbus Friday for Uber's launch in the Golden Triangle. The Uber driver normally services the Jackson area. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Jack McDaniel

Jack McDaniel

 

 

Slim Smith

 

 

For the past five months, Terrel Curtis has followed the same routine. He gets into his 2011 Chevrolet Impala and heads south from his home in Philadelphia, Mississippi, to Jackson, an 80-mile trip. 

 

Friday was different. 

 

This time, he headed north, arriving in the Golden Triangle about 2 p.m. 

 

"I thought I would see what it's like," said Curtis, 39. 

 

On Friday, Uber -- an app-based ride-sharing company -- began service in the Golden Triangle and throughout the state, expanding its service from Jackson and five other cities. 

 

For Curtis, an Uber driver, the change of direction was a matter of curiosity. 

 

"I wanted to see what kind of demand there is here," he said. "It's a little closer than Jackson, but that doesn't matter if you can't get enough rides to make it worth your while." 

 

 

 

Out of retirement 

 

At age 80, Jack McDaniel decided it was time to go back to work. 

 

A former social worker, executive, consultant and stockbroker, McDaniel retired in 2002. 

 

"I wasn't any good at being retired," he said. "So I fired myself and went back to work." 

 

McDaniel applied to be a driver with Uber in 2015, about six weeks after the company made its debut in Mississippi. Jackson remained the only area in the state with Uber service until July, when the company launched in Biloxi, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Oxford and Tupelo. 

 

Uber operates through a smartphone app. Customers download the app then make requests for rides. Drivers are alerted to the request by proximity to the call. 

 

"If you are the closest, you can either accept it or decline it," McDaniel said. 

 

All transactions are made through the app. Customers open an account and link it to their preferred method of payment -- credit card, bank draft or Paypal account. 

 

"It fits my needs," said McDaniel, who grew up in Clinton. "I enjoy driving and I enjoy meeting people. Since I started driving, it's allowed me to get reacquainted with people I met years ago. I am available to work seven days a week, because really, it doesn't seem like work to me." 

 

 

 

A job with 'pretty good' pay 

 

Curtis said being an Uber driver has its ups and downs. 

 

"You can make pretty good money, if you get steady rides," said Curtis, who quit his job at a plywood factory to start driving full-time. "On a $20 ride, they take 25 percent, so that means you get $15. You have to pay for your own gas and upkeep for your car, but that' s pretty good. If you stay busy, you do all right. 

 

"I like it," he added. "You can make pretty good money, but it comes and goes. You can't really base what you're going to make one week on what you made the week before. Some weeks are better than others. I guess that's really the only thing I can think of that I don't like." 

 

Uber drivers can set their own hours and work as much or as little as they want. 

 

That flexibility is especially appealing to McDaniel. 

 

"It's pretty simple," he said. "You just punch a button on your smartphone to go online and that means you're on call. If you want to take off for a break or call it a day, you just punch the same button and you're off-line. So you have complete control." 

 

McDaniel is fairly happy with the pay, as well. 

 

"It really depends on how much you want to work," McDaniel said. "I'm online probably 65 to 70 hours a week, although I don't actually work that many hours. But I drive as much as a I can, mainly because I'm having so much fun." 

 

After five months, Curtis has developed a pretty good sense of knowing when demand will be high. 

 

"Evenings are better than the day," he said. "Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays -- you always want to work those days." 

 

 

 

Building loyal clientele 

 

McDaniel said his network of friends and business associates have proven beneficial in his new job. 

 

"Between my work contacts and through serving on a lot of boards and community and church organizations, I knew a lot of people," McDaniel said. "A lot of those people are my customers now. The older generation, especially, doesn't like to take it potluck with their drivers. They don't like taxis, as a rule, because they don't know the driver and the experience isn't a pleasant one. A lot of the people I drive depend on me. I've built up a clientele of sorts, although typically that's not how it works for most drivers." 

 

Curtis said his strategy depends on knowing the schedule of big events. 

 

"Your best money is when there's something big going on," he said Friday afternoon, while driving the route in Columbus. "There's a big music festival in Jackson this weekend, so I'll be heading down there in few minutes." 

 

 

 

Will Uber catch on in the Golden Triangle? 

 

Friday's launch did not prove to be a good move financially for Curtis. 

 

"I got here about an hour-and-a-half ago and I've had just the one ride since I've been here," he said. 

 

His fare was for the trip was $13.07 for a four-mile trip that ended in downtown Columbus. 

 

That means Curtis made $9.80. 

 

"It really wasn't worth it coming here, but I wanted to check it out," he said. "It was the first day, so I didn't know what to expect. I probably won't come back until the word gets out a little more. I think it probably will be a pretty good area, especially in Starkville because it's a college town, and that's usually good for a lot of rides." 

 

McDaniel said he's confident Uber will catch on and be a success in the Golden Triangle. 

 

"I spent seven years working in Tupelo and I've been all over the area," he said. "You've got a pretty busy airport. You have the Air Force base, MUW and Mississippi State. All those are good for customers. I would think, just based on what I've seen in 2 1/2 years, that you could make between $500 and $1,000 a week if you work full-time." 

 

Curtis agrees. 

 

"You can do all right if you don't mind working nights and weekends," he said. "It's better than working at the plywood factory, that's for sure." 

 

Persons interested in becoming an Uber driver can go to https://www.uber.com/drive/requirements/ for a list of requirements and access to online applications.

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

 

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