Uber coming to Washington, Greene counties

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

Drew Johnson entertains his kids by day and audiences by night. A full-time singer/songwriter/band leader, he is in tune with making extra bucks, so he became an Uber driver in March.

“I basically did a graveyard shift driving,” he said.

But after awhile, Johnson stopped doing that because he lived in Waynesburg, where Uber did not have a presence. His fares were in the Pittsburgh area.

“I was using a half-tank of gas, so I put that on the back burner.”

Dan Bracey of North Franklin Township, a service adviser for Baker’s Waterproofing in Bentleyville, likewise decided to supplement his full-time income by working for Uber. He, too, had to go to Allegheny County to pick up clients, who can request a ride via smartphone.

“I’d sit at South Hills Village or at a McDonald’s in Green Tree and wait for a call,” he said. “I’d usually wait 10 or 15 minutes before it came in.”

For Johnson and Bracey, driving for Uber suddenly became uber easier.

The global ride-sharing provider, which operated in Pittsburgh for the past 2 1/2 years, is expanding its service in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Uber announced Thursday morning it was spreading out to seven counties surrounding Allegheny, including Washington and Greene. Fayette, Westmoreland, Armstrong, Butler and Indiana also are part of that larger footprint.

The expansion took effect at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Uber, based in San Francisco, said this is one of 11 regional expansions it is initiating across the state, which, when implemented, will provide service to 93 percent of Pennsylvanians.

The company said in a prepared statement: “Uber is making it possible to push a button and get a ride in minutes, no matter where you are. With students gearing up for the fall semester, we think Uber can also help provide a safe alternative to drunk driving. Our mission is to cover every ZIP code in the state, and this expansion takes us one big step closer to that goal.”

Bracey and Johnson are helping to provide that step. Uber drivers use their own vehicles and are required to maintain them and keep them clean. They clock in and clock out when they wish. Many work a “shift” but take breaks, and are paid a percentage of the passengers’ fares.

Expansion is certainly a big step for the leader of Drew Johnson Music Group, a Southern rock/country band.

“I had been begging them to come into Greene County because there is no taxi service there,” he said. “We play at bars and restaurants, where people have drinks but (don’t have a driver to take them home).”

Johnson essentially worked from about 8:30 p.m. to 11 a.m. the following day, and occasionally had a passenger bound for Washington County. He said he liked to drive, and found St. Patrick’s Day to be especially bountiful. But the cost of commuting was prohibitive.

Now that Uber will operate in Washington and Greene, he plans to be behind the wheel again.

“I’m excited about this,” he said. “This couldn’t come at a better time for me. I won’t be going to Pittsburgh unless it’s a big event or it’s worth it.”

Johnson was unaware of the expansion until the Observer-Reporter called Thursday morning. Bracey, on the contrary, found out Wednesday.

He hasn’t worked for Uber recently either, or for very long. Bracey was approved as a driver in October, took on riders through November and December, but only a few days in January and February. “I wasn’t comfortable driving around Pittsburgh at night, so I usually worked from 11 a.m. to about 7-ish.”

Baker’s Waterproofing is his top professional priority.

“This is a nice fill-in, I enjoy it,” he said of his Uber duties. “But it’s strictly a fill-in.”

Bracey is gratified by the company’s entry into Washington and Greene, but has “one concern.” And it could be a valid concern for drivers, and would-be drivers, from the area.

“Will there be enough riders in Washington County to keep me busy?” he asked. “In Pittsburgh, it’s not so much of a problem. You pretty much go from ride to ride to ride.

“I would go to Greene County, too. My dad is a Greene County guy. But will there be enough business there to warrant that?”