Rideshare service comes to Bakersfield

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) For a little over a month, rideshare service Uber has been transporting drivers around Bakersfield, though not everyone is lining up for a ride.

The company describes itself as a rideshare service with which customers can easily request a ride using a smartphone app.

Adam Nielsen is one of Bakersfield's first Uber drivers.

"We have a very convenient app for our users in which they are able to specify where they would like to be picked up at," said Nielsen.

The company prides itself on ease. With the push of a smartphone button, passengers can request a personal driver. The service is popular with those taking in the nightlife, who see the app as much safer alternative to driving after a night of drinking.

"I would say, in general, we are probably faster than a taxi, and we charge less than them," said Nielsen.

Though, unlike taxis, Uber drivers do not have to adhere to some requirements.

"You have to go to the police department, get a drug test, fingerprints, all this stuff adds up," said Krystyna Baugh, a driver for American Express Taxi.

Uber drivers also use their own cars.

"We have lights on top, we have numbers and websites on the van. So, (customers) should feel safer in a marked car than an unmarked car," Baugh.

Government officials across the country are scrambling to figure out how to deal with independent contractors, like Uber, picking up travelers for money on their streets.

As of Thursday, Virginia's DMV found Uber as a violation of state law and ordered the company to stop operating immediately.

Things are the exact opposite in Colorado, where, also Thursday, a bill embracing the service as mainstream transportation was passed.

California has advanced a bill to create new rideshare specific regulations, but it is still under active negotiation.

Without the same regulations taxis are held to, the big question among potential consumers is: are they safe? The Bakersfield Police Department weighed in.

"As far as somebody using that service, I would just caution about, does everything match? They send you information about the vehicle or about the driver," said police Sgt. Joe Grubbs.

"Groups are better than when you're by yourself, especially for women," Grubbs continued. "We certainly would prefer Uber or a taxi over driving intoxicated, so this is a good service that can potentially save lives."

Nielsen said Uber is being targeted by taxis for being a competitive service. He said the company has taken steps to ensure user safety. Users are able to rate drivers after a ride to provide feedback for future customers.

"One of the things that you'll want to check is how many rides has your Uber driver taken people on," said Nielsen.

He said they also provide its drivers with a light-up U-sign to identify vehicles as part of Uber.

"It shows my photo, so they're able to verify my photo with my profile. You should always be careful. Look at who you're riding with, make sure that they're an actual Uber driver if you're going to be getting in to the car with them," said Nielsen.