Uber is rolling out its app-based ride service in Wichita.
"Over the past two months there have been thousands of users who've been checking to see if Uber's available in Wichita," said Pooneet Kant, Uber General Manager, Wichita.
Thursday, Uber hit the phones and streets of Wichita. The new ride-sharing services started picking up customers Thursday morning. FactFinder 12 first told you it was coming in May. Wichita joins more than 100 cities around the country with the service.
The cars in Wichita are part of the UberX division, which means they are not the black town cars many larger cities have. The UberX cars are personal vehicles of the drivers who are Wichita-area residents.
The international service allows customers to request a ride through an app on their phone. We went to Mid-Continent Airport to ask people what they think about Uber.
"Everyone says it's really nice, really convenient, really affordable," Jason Racine said. "A lot better than hailing a cab."
Most people told us it seems like a good option. Some, like Chrisy Marshman, feel it's safer than a taxi.
"I have flown into cities where I didn't know a soul and just had to jump in," Marshman said.
Marshman said she likes the rating system in place.
"After every ride users are prompted to rate the drivers on a scale from one to five stars," Kant siad. "That really helps us ensure a really high level of quality on the system."
"I think it would make me feel more comfortable and feel a little more relaxed about it," Marshman said.
Kant said payment information is all taken care of through the app.
"There is no need to tip with Uber," Kant said. "We view that as something you just shouldn't have to think about."
FactFinder 12 discovered the company's drivers are not regulated by the city because they use personal vehicles. So we wanted to know if the safety of the service compares to the convenience. Kant said drivers convicted of sex crimes or a felony are not allowed. He says background checks are required for all employees.
"It's very extensive," Kant said. "It covers county, multi-state, federal, sex offender, and motor vehicle records."
Uber does not fall under Wichita's taxi regulations because it doesn't have a central radio dispatch system. The city requires criminal background checks on taxi drivers. It also tracks driving history, and has rules for appearance and hygiene.
We asked some Wichita taxi drivers how they feel about Uber coming to the city.
"I don't think we're too worried about it," said Timothy Armbrust, General Manager, Best Cabs. "Number one, I don't think Wichita is a big enough city for Uber to have an effect on us, and number two, I just don't think it will fly here."
Because Uber is a phone-based system, we also wanted to be sure drivers won't be distracted. We asked Kant how the company gets around texting-while-driving laws.
"They're never texting, they're never making calls," Kant siad. "The only interaction they have with the phone is really a single time they have to tap the phone to accept a ride request."
But if an accident were to happen, FactFinder 12 asked what kind of protection the company offers. Uber recently made changes to its insurance policy. It now covers up to $1 million for riders when they are on a trip.
"If the driver's not engaged in a trip then it's either their personal policies in effect, or we also have a policy for that period as well," Kant said.
We asked how many Uber cars will be in Wichita, but Kant would not give us a number. He says the company is focused on growing as quickly as possible.
"We're very confident that people are going to love the service," he said.