The map showed a car – just one – circling near the Walmart on White Park Drive last Monday morning.
That was Esau Garivay’s green Chevy Cruze and, a few clicks later, it was heading towards this newspaper’s office to deliver an Uber ride.
Garivay, 30, has been serving Uber passengers around Nogales on-and-off for about a year. He said he signed up to drive for the company after hearing about it from friends in Tucson.
Uber and its main competitor, Lyft, have transformed the transportation network in large U.S. cities, including nearby Tucson. But the ride-sharing apps still haven’t been widely adopted in Nogales.
Aside from Garivay, who only works for Uber part-time, it’s not clear how many drivers there are in the local area. Nogales is considered part of the Tucson area for both Uber and Lyft, and Arizona doesn’t require companies to release stats on drivers or rides.
It took the NI several attempts to successfully order an Uber ride and efforts to call a Lyft never worked out.
But the small market for ride-sharing in Nogales isn’t an anomaly.
A January 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that, across the country, ride-sharing use was significantly lower outside of urban and suburban areas.
“There are always some issues that affect the adoption of any new innovation or technology,” Lee Rainie, the director of internet and technology research at Pew, wrote in an email.
Rainie said demographics had an important effect: older people and those with lower household incomes were less likely to use ride-sharing apps.
And relatively low pay for drivers is another factor behind the lower number of ride-sharing vehicles covering Nogales roads.
Garivay estimated that he gives five or six rides a day, six days a week; his most common route is in between the Mariposa and DeConcini ports. That earns him about $150 per week, he said, much less than he can make from other driving work, like delivering food from local restaurants to hotels via another app, DoorDash.
One other Nogales man told the NI that he’d been driving with Uber for about six months, but did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.
‘Not used to it’
The Uber ride from the NI’s office, near Mariposa Road, to the McDonald’s on Crawford Street cost $8, before tip. (Garivay complained that another reason for lousy pay with Uber is that nobody tips.)
That’s less than the $11.25 that the taxi meter read after giving this a reporter ride from the Bowman residences on Grand Avenue back to the NI office. But the cab driver, Rosario Rodriguez Burgos, offered to reduce that fare to a flat rate of $8. (He hadn’t asked about the price of the Uber.)
Ride-sharing apps have leveled taxi industries in many major cities, leading to stiff opposition – and sometimes violent confrontation – from taxi drivers and their unions. When reports began circulating in late 2017 that Uber was preparing to offer service in Nogales, Sonora, the city’s traditional taxi drivers spoke out in protest.
But taxi drivers in Nogales, Ariz. didn’t sound particularly concerned about ride-sharing apps eating up their business.
“I don’t have anything against them,” Rodriguez Burgos said. He added that he doesn’t think Uber is a threat to local taxis, because people need to download an app to use the service.
Burgos takes passengers who wave him down on the street and has other clients who call him to request a ride. During the ride to the office, he answered a phone call asking for a pick-up at the Nogales Clinic.
Armando Molina, who said he’s been driving a taxi for 30 years, suggested that many clients wouldn’t be able to use apps because they don’t have a credit card.
But Molina also had a simpler reason that riders won’t switch to Uber: “They’re not used to it.”