Uber hits 2 million rides in Massachusetts for September

It’s no secret that Uber has become a ubiquitous part of Boston’s transportation options, but company officials say they’ve reached another big milestone that highlights the ride-hailing service’s growing prominence: Uber drivers provided about 2 million rides to Massachusetts passengers last month, setting a record for the company in the state.

Uber revealed the number at a time when lawmakers are debating how to regulate companies such as Uber and Lyft, ride-hailing apps that have become increasingly popular.

On one side, supporters of traditional taxi services say that Uber and Lyft are stealing business and are not as safe because their drivers aren’t subject to the same stringent regulations. On the other, companies such as Uber and Lyft say they are just as safe and tap into a customer base that hasn’t been served as well by taxis.

Meghan Verena Joyce, general manager for Uber on the East Coast, said the company has been able to grow so rapidly because riders are attracted to its affordability. Uber trips tend to be cheaper: Uber can set its own fares, while the municipality sets fares for taxis.

Joyce also said that drivers enjoy working for Uber. She cited a recent company survey according to which 87 percent of drivers cited the flexibility of the schedule, and the ability to be their own boss, as reasons they started to work for Uber.

She said Uber also helps people in areas that are underserved by public transit and often acts as a “one-way” trip, meaning customers usually use both Uber and public transit on their outings. She also said Uber drivers are giving rides to people who otherwise wouldn’t take a taxi.

Though Joyce downplayed the competition between taxis and Uber in an interview, Uber officials are passing out data that show Uber drivers offer a better alternative to taxis.

During a legislative hearing in September, they provided lawmakers with a “case study” of Boston that showed Uber customers waiting less for their car to arrive and paying less for the ride than taxi customers.

In its case study, Uber compared its data with data from a 2013 report on taxis from the City of Boston. For example, 99 percent of Uber cars picked up customers in Mattapan in fewer than 20 minutes, according to the company’s data, while Boston’s 2013 report showed that only 65.4 percent of taxis picked up their customers in that amount of time.

Citywide, Uber’s data showed that 99 percent of its drivers arrived within 20 minutes, compared with an 87 percent rate for taxis cited in the city’s 2013 report.

The average wait time for an UberX ride has dropped from about 17 minutes in February 2013 to about 3 minutes in August, according to Uber’s data.

Donna Blythe-Shaw, who leads the Boston Taxi Drivers Association, said she’s not surprised at such data. She says that with fewer regulations, many more Uber drivers are on the streets compared with taxicabs. That means more drivers will be available to pick up customers quicker, she said.

Blythe-Shaw also said she hopes state legislators will address the debate soon because taxi drivers are suffering.

Ride-hailing companies are “hammering away at the taxi industry because government regulators have done nothing to curb UberX’s operations on the roads,” she said.