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Five months in, Uber GM says upstate was worth the wait

Nearly five months after Uber's long-awaited and hotly contested launch in upstate New York, the ridesharing service still is settling into the Buffalo Niagara region.

Sarfraz Maredia,Uber's general manager for its northeast region, recently visited Buffalo to meet with drivers and check in on the company's Buffalo operations.

Q: It's been five months since Uber came to upstate. What's your impression on how things have gone?

A: We've been overwhelmed by the level of enthusiasm from drivers and riders, as well as the communities we're finally able to serve all over New York.

Buffalo, in particular, was a really important city for Uber. It's been great to see how well received ride sharing has been. Tens of thousands of people regularly using Uber as riders. Thousands of drivers all over upstate using Uber to make extra money in their free time.

Q: What have you learned in the five months Uber has been in upstate?

A: The number one thing when we launch in an important city like Buffalo or an important region like upstate New York is really focusing on reliability. People want and expect that they'll be able to use the Uber app and that they'll be able to ger a ride in five minutes or less.

We're seeing that already in the core Buffalo area and multiple parts of upstate. In certain places that are a bit more suburban or outside of larger cities, maybe it's a little bit longer.

The fact that we're seeing so many drivers interested in driving and being able to earn money in their free time means that that reliability is happening even faster than we thought. What tends to happen over time is that as there are more people interested in using ridesharing and using options like Uber to get around their cities, there are more drivers who are interested in driving because of the income opportunity.

So over time, you see drivers living in every zip code. If drivers are living in every zip code, that means you can get a ride in your community pretty quickly.

Q: How many drivers does Uber have? What kind of usage have you had upstate?

A: We've had over 50,000 drivers sign up across the broader state since we've been able to launch ridesharing outside of New York City.

The average rider rating in this part of New York is actually above 4.9, which is really high. The average driver rating is 4.78 on a scale of one to five. That's telling us that riders also feel like they're getting consistently high levels of service from drivers.

We think in 2018 we will be helping to connect riders and drivers for trips millions of times throughout the rest of New York state. In terms of volume of demand and interest of using ride sharing, I think, is a testament to how much people want more options.

Q: What type of learning curve do customers typically have with customers when Uber moves into a new market, and how did that compare with the upstate experience?

A: Typically it correlates with the level of awareness and education about how Uber works and how easy it is to use and how accessible it is.

One of the benefits is that a lot of people in this area have been waiting for Uber to be available for some time. One of the things that was different was that there was much more awareness of Uber and ridesharing than there typically is when we launch in a new city.

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Q: You met with drivers earlier. What was the feedback you got from them?

A: There are a lot of drivers who are picking people up at the airport and picking them up somewhere in upstate, the first comment from a rider is 'I didn't realize Uber was available here.' Even though there was a lot of news about it when we launched, there are still people who are just finding out. So we talked about how we're going to build better awareness.

A lot of the drivers commented about, especially on the weekends and when they are big events going on where they live, that they're making more money than they thought and that they're steadily busy. And that there are other times of the week when they're not as busy. It's probably not as busy on a Tuesday night as it is if we have a Sunday night game at New Era Field.

Q: What kind of turnover rate have you seen among drivers?

A: I think it's probably too early to say, given that we've only been operating for four or five months. We're seeing a high rate of engagement from drivers, but we'll probably have a better idea of that 12 to 18 months after having launched.

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Q: What's going on with Uber Eats?

A: Uber Eats is growing incredibly quickly. Part of the reason is that there's really a demand for being able to have food from restaurants and places that you like delivered to you.

We plan to expand beyond where we're currently operating. But what we focused on is making sure that there are more restaurants available.We're going city by city to find out what are the places people really want to have delivery options from and working with those restaurants directly. As more become available in a given area, the people are more likely to be able to use the option because they have more than 10 or 20 in the nearby area they can request from. They've got dozens.

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