Many students at the College from bustling cities like New York or Boston are familiar with Uber, the taxi service app that has revolutionized transportation in busy metropolises. What they may not know, however, is that we have Uber right here in Williamstown—well, one driver, to be exact.
Todd Noyes is a College employee who began driving for Uber last fall during its campaign to expand into western Massachusetts. This past weekend, after maneuvering around Uber’s tricky restrictions on contacting drivers by requesting a pickup from Noyes’ Uber account, I got the chance to sit down and talk to Noyes about life as Williamstown’s only Uber driver.
Due to his busy weekday schedule, Noyes usually lists himself as available to drive on the Uber app only in the evenings and on weekends. During the day, he is busy working for the Office for Information Technology (OIT) doing computer repair and manning the help desk. “I started [working at OIT] part-time in 1998, and I was hired full-time in 2000-2001,” Noyes said. “And I’ve been here ever since.”
Noyes has a deep-seated connection to Williamstown that goes beyond working at OIT or driving for Uber — he was raised here. “I was born in Vermont, and then I grew up in Pittsfield,” he said. “And then when I was seven or eight, my parents moved from Pittsfield to Williamstown. So most of my life I’ve been here.”
Last year, Noyes decided to start driving for Uber due to the advice of a friend who was also thinking about it, but who has yet to begin driving. Noyes began driving in Williamstown before the app had completed its official expansion into western Massachusetts, and described the requirements to become an Uber driver as quite minimal.
“You have to have a car that’s 2001 or newer, so it covers cars that are pretty old … You have to have a clean driving record, and you have to pass a background check,” he said. “But beyond that, I don’t think there are any additional requirements. You can’t [have been] in any major accidents in the past two years, but that’s pretty much it.”
Most of Noyes’ Uber customers are students going to and from the College. “The route I most often go is usually from campus to Stop & Shop,” he said. Noyes has a few frequent customers: “I started about a year ago, [and] the few people that have used Uber in the area [I] tend to take to Stop & Shop more than once. Cumberland Farms is another [popular destination].”
He reports few disturbances while driving students from the College, and has been satisfied with the level of respect that his collegiate customers have given him.
The furthest that Noyes has driven for Uber is to the Boston suburbs for the parents of a student at the College, and he has also driven customers to Amherst and the Albany airport. He has only refused a ride once, and it was a few months ago, when a customer requested to be taken to Manhattan from North Adams at 7 p.m. Given that he had to be up early to work the next day, Noyes had to say no.
“I’m sorry, but that’s too far, by the time I pull in to my own driveway it’s going to be two or three in the morning – I’m sorry, I just can’t do this,” he said.
If the request had been put in an hour or two earlier, however, Noyes would have been willing to take the customer to a nearby train station to catch the commuter rail into New York.
“If they had gotten me early enough I probably could have done that, but [otherwise] that would have just been a really long night,” Noyes said.
When he’s in Williamstown, Noyes is only able to get Uber requests from Williamstown, Adams and North Adams. Although he thinks he is technically able to pick up a customer in the border town of Pownal, Vt., he has yet to have that happen. While at home, he is out of range of requests originating in Pittsfield and its neighboring towns. He often ends up driving in that area during the busy summer months, however, when the demand for Uber skyrockets due to the popularity of Berkshire favorites such as Tanglewood. This past summer, Noyes had firsthand exposure to this phenomenon, which involved surge pricing due to high demand.
“One time I got a request to go from North Adams to Pittsfield, and then I immediately got another request to go from Pittsfield to Lennox, and then I got another request to go from Lennox to Great Barrington, so I just kept going,” he said.
When he is not getting prices to surge, Noyes has not noticed a large demand for Uber in the area. Although he makes himself available to drive most nights, he doesn’t often anticipate getting many fares, and prefers to turn on the app and wait at home for requests.
Due to this low amount of demand, Noyes believes that it would be strategic for Uber to allow customers to schedule rides in advance in addition to the on-demand feature that gets relatively low use in Williamstown.
“The one feature I would like to see Uber have would be the ability to schedule, especially in these areas, a ride,” he said.
The company has been trying to recruit more drivers in the area, but Noyes is not convinced that this is what Williamstown needs. “I don’t know that there’s necessarily the demand for that in this area,” he said.
Todd Noyes is indeed a special part of the Williamstown community; in addition to being both a native and an employee of the College, he effectively has a monopoly on the local Uber industry. And although his services are currently in low demand, perhaps as more students and other members of the community become familiar with Uber’s relatively new expansion to the area, he will become an integral player in the local transportation economy.