Uber, UberX Want to Be Jersey Shore’s Designated Driver

I like Uber — and I love anything that could reduce drunk driving — but I remain wary of UberX.

Uber is continuing its march across New Jersey by adding services for the South Jersey Shore, just in time for Memorial Day Weekend.

Today the company announced that both regular Uber (what it calls Uber BLACK) and UberX will start rolling on Friday, and will be most active on Friday from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.; Saturday from noon to 5 a.m.; and Sunday from noon to 3 a.m.. Ballpark prices put rides from Avalon to Sea Isle at $11 on uberX and $24 on Uber BLACK and from Sea Isle to Atlantic City at $56 on uberX and $118 on Uber BLACK — add more if you’re calling for an SUV in all cases.

My feelings are mixed.

I have used regular Uber in Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco, and I am a fan. It’s great for when I am somewhere that taxis don’t usually cruise, need a ride very early in the morning or late at night, or in a city where I don’t know the taxi rules. I’ve also taken Uber home from the Phillies game rather than do the Broad Street Line-to-PATCO shuffle. I’m willing to pay a little bit more for the service in those cases. Mass transit and cab service isn’t that great at the South Jersey Shore if you want to go from one island to another, though many towns now offer trolley or Jitney services to get people from town to town — or bar to bar — within the same island.

My issue is more with the safety of UberX, which in South Jersey now operates full time in Gloucester and Burlington counties and in Camden County, where I live. Uber is an app that lets you call a car to wherever you are, as long as they operate in that city. UberX is more of a ride-sharing service where, say, my neighbor could register herself as a driver and her Honda Fit as her UberX car, and then offer her services if I needed a ride home from the bar or didn’t want to drive myself to the Cherry Hill Mall.

That sounds convenient, but the screening of UberX drivers has been called into serious question, and Uber’s response has been to charge UberX riders a $1 fee. When Uber announced UberX was coming to South Jersey, they offered those of us who already have the app a free ride. Even when it was free, I passed. If I can walk to the bar, I can walk home, and I’m really not interested in getting into the car with a stranger who may or may not have been properly vetted.

(In response to this story, Uber spokesperson Kaitlin Durkosh responded that “all Uber driver partners must go through a rigorous background check that leads the industry. The three-step screening we’ve developed across the United States, which includes county, federal and multi-state checks, has set a new standard. We apply this comprehensive and new industry standard consistently across all Uber products, including uberX,” and that its screening process is rigorous and thorough as outlined here.)

As for the service down the shore? We’ll see. Uber is positioning itself as your weekend designated driver, and donating $1 of every ride made at the South Jersey Shore this weekend to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

While it’d be nice to hop from island to island, most people who hit the shore stick to bars within walking distance, or have beach cruisers to take them from spot to spot. I see this coming most into play for people getting to and from Atlantic City; and people staying in Ocean City, which is a dry town (in the announcement, Uber admitted that they’re “newbies,” so I’ll give this advice for free: ALWAYS ballpark price the ride to Ocean City, not the other way around. Also, the term you should be using isn’t “newbie” but “shoobie.”)

Uber can be a pricey service, but so are cabs in that area, and both are better than the alternative. Last year, Jitneys started operating on the Seven Mile Island, which includes Avalon and Stone Harbor, and drunk driving rates dropped. Of course I’m all for that, and not just because I was hit by a drunk driver in high school. Drunk driving is stupid and unnecessary and fatal.

But for now, I’d gladly pay more for an Uber BLACK car; I’m going to wait and see on UberX — Jersey Shore or not.

Jen A. Miller will be covering the Jersey Shore for Philadelphia magazine this summer. Follow @byJenAMiller on Twitter.