More in Westmoreland using Uber |

More in Westmoreland using Uber

Patrick Varine

As a full-time Uber driver, Apollo Chandler is all over Southwestern Pennsylvania.

During the past year or so, his daily driving has included more and more destinations in Westmoreland County.

“On some days, I might be in Westmoreland 70 percent of the time,” said Chandler, 38, of Lower Burrell, who began driving for Uber in December 2016 and went full time last summer. “Other days, it might be 5 percent.”

When ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft began operating in the Pittsburgh area in 2014, few trips went as far as Westmoreland.

Brian Bricker of Ross arranged an Uber ride to a friend’s wedding, which was 45 minutes away in Gilpin, Armstrong County.

“We were looking to have some drinks and not have to worry about driving home,” Bricker said. “When I told the Uber driver where we were going, he said, ‘Oh. That’s really far. If I’d have known that was where you were going, I probably wouldn’t have picked you up.’ ”

It was the driver’s last trip of the day, and he agreed to take Bricker and his wife. But while chatting on the way to the wedding, “he kind of said, ‘Good luck getting an Uber back.’ ”

Luckily, the Brickers were among friends and able to catch a ride home.

‘All over the city’

Situations like the Brickers’ are becoming more rare. These days, Chandler starts out at his home in Lower Burrell and never knows where the day will take him.

“I can drive someone from New Kensington to Greensburg, drop them at (Pitt-Greensburg), and as soon as I drop them off, I have another one lined up,” he said. “Other days, I’ll start in Greensburg, get a call at the (Pittsburgh) airport and from there I’m all over the city.”

Chandler employs a strategy of continuous movement, generally between Lower Burrell and Greensburg.

“I’d rather waste $10 in gas and get a couple more fares than sit still and just wait,” he said.

That strategy puts him in areas where finding a ride-sharing driver had been difficult, if not impossible.

“A year ago, it was really hard to get a ride from Westmoreland County,” he said.

Driving full time has necessitated a change in his lifestyle.

“On occasion, I’ve put in 17-hour days ,” Chandler said, adding that he has even managed to work exercise into his schedule.

“I have memberships to three different gyms,” he said. “After a few hours, I’ll turn the driver app off, take a break to stretch my legs and hit the gym, and then get back on the road.”

Eventually, Chandler wants to start his own business. He found that by using his own strategies for finding fares, he can earn about $1,000 working 38 hours per week and have spare time to develop his business plan.

“I took $200 in gas money and figured out how to do this full time and make a living,” he said. “That gave me the confidence to quit my other job and focus on this.”

Closer to home … mostly

Part-time drivers tend to stay closer to home.

Before she passed away in January, James Spoonhoward’s mother, Carol, had been working part time as an Uber driver in the Herminie area.

“I knew she would love it,” Spoonhoward said. “She’d come home every single day and tell us about every person: who they were, their life story and where she took them.”

Chandler’s 65-year-old mother is a part-time Uber driver in the Rochester, N.Y., area.

“She had quadruple bypass (surgery) and was having trouble finding a job,” he said. “I got her into it, and now she loves it.”

Frank Shirey, 52, of Latrobe started driving for Uber full time about a year and a half ago.

“I was unemployed for health reasons, I was turned down for disability and I didn’t have a car at the time,” Shirey said. “I saw a Craigslist ad for Uber, which said you could lease a vehicle through them.”

Shirey logs in from his home in Latrobe in the mornings and tries to stay between his hometown and Greensburg “for a couple hours and see if I can generate enough rides to earn income, because this is my full-time job.”

Shirey said it seems that more Westmoreland residents are taking advantage of ride-sharing services.

“Lately, I’ve been able to stay pretty busy out this way,” he said.

Sometimes, that changes drastically.

Shirey picks up quite a few fares from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity, and some of those folks are far from their destinations.

“My longest trip ever was from Palmer airport to Franklin, N.J.,” he said with a laugh. On Uber’s estimate website, the roughly 300-mile trip starts at $348.

Shirey once picked up a couple whose car broke down in Irwin on their way home from a vacation with their 2-year-old.

“They lived in Fairfax, Va., and they needed to get their child home,” he said.

Shirey said his average trip is between 10 and 15 minutes when he’s driving in the area between Latrobe and Monroeville.

Peak demand

One popular distant destination for Westmoreland residents, Chandler said, is PNC Park.

“I’ve never picked up someone from a Pirate game who lived there in the city,” he said. “It’s always someone from Westmoreland County or Plum or Monroeville.”

Weekend nights are when Chandler does the most business, and most of it is closer to the city.

“That’s probably the toughest time to get an Uber (in Westmoreland) because so many drivers are gravitating toward Downtown (Pittsburgh),” he said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Apollo Chandler, 38, of Lower Burrell heads west on Route 22. Chandler began work as a full-time Uber driver last summer, and many of his trips take him to Westmoreland County.
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