Business - August 12, 2017

Five Central Florida cities soon will help you pay for Uber rides

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]entral Florida – If you live in Altamonte Springs and use Uber to dine at a Lake Mary restaurant, the city of Lake Mary could pick up part of the tab for your trip.

Likewise, if you take the ride-sharing service from Maitland to downtown Sanford or to the Orlando Sanford International Airport to catch a flight, Sanford is prepared to cut part of the cost for your ride into its city.

And on your Uber trip back home, expect Maitland to pick up part of the cost.

The proposed inter-city discount is an extension of a pilot program that began in July 2016, when Altamonte Springs, Lake Mary, Maitland, Sanford and Longwood began offering discounts on Uber rides that began and ended within each city’s boundary in an effort to reduce congestion on Central Florida highways.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Sanford spokeswoman Lisa Holder said. “It’s a safe way to get around and to get home. And we hope our friends in these cities will come to Sanford to enjoy our downtown and its restaurants.”

The expanded discount program is aimed at luring visitors into neighboring cities. Here’s how it would work: Each of the five municipalities would pick up 20 percent — up to $5 — of the cost of an Uber trip into their cities from any of the other participating cities.

Trips to or from the cities’ SunRail stations would garner a 25 percent — up to $6.25 — discount.

City leaders in Maitland and Sanford are scheduled to vote on the discount program Monday, on the heels of approval last week by Longwood and Altamonte Springs commissioners.

Lake Mary commissioners are scheduled to consider the program Thursday.

Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz said when his city first pitched the idea for the Uber discount program in March 2016, it was meant to encourage residents to use other modes of transportation besides their cars, such as SunRail and Uber.

“We’re trying to offer residents something more convenient,” he said.

By using Uber, “they can go door to door and not have to drive, and not go into a parking lot and look for a parking space.”

Through July, Altamonte Springs paid Uber a total of nearly $32,000 for the discounts for travel within its city; Sanford, $25,132; Lake Mary, $2,686; Longwood, $1,791; and Maitland, $1,192.

Before requesting an Uber car ride, customers need to create accounts by downloading an app to their smartphones.

They can then order Uber rides to locations with a few simple taps on their cellphone screens. The software will automatically deduct the cost of trips among the five cities.

In the past year Martz said he received calls from 67 cities across the U.S. and around the world asking for information about implementing a similar program, he said.

“The SunRail trains don’t run frequently enough during the week, and they don’t run at all on the weekends,” he said.

“So people are looking for another way to get around.”

He said he hopes other Central Florida cities will join the discount program.

But Orlando has no plans to join the Uber discount program, city spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser said.

She pointed out that Orlando already offers bike- and car-share programs and recently expanded its free Lymmo downtown circulator bus.

Tom Tomerlin, Lake Mary assistant city manager, said the Uber discounts can also benefit residents getting to work in his city.

“Most jobs in Lake Mary are located close to Interstate 4,” he said.

“So this provides a new economic- development benefit by giving an additional option to employees based in Lake Mary.”

On a recent morning, Brice Counelis stepped off a SunRail commuter train in Longwood.

The 28-year-old Apopka resident uses the train about “two or three times a week” to travel to cities along the train’s north-and-south route.

But if he needs to go to a city not along SunRail’s path, he said he’d take Uber.

“Uber can be more convenient for those trips,” he said.

“But the discounts sound like a good deal if I plan to go those cities. It’s extra money I’ll have left over.”

Lake Nona Golf & Country Club