Trenton Mulkey drove his eight-passenger Dodge Durango into the Tyler city limits Thursday afternoon from Murchison prepared to accept his first ride as an Uber driver - or so he thought.
Mulkey's first trip was a bust. After receiving notification of his first passenger, the ride canceled. His second trip went more smoothly, but still hit some bumps.
"I was reading the details about how to get good ratings as a driver, and I'm failing every single one of them here on my first day," Mulkey said. "I didn't get my car washed, I didn't take out my trash, I'm not dressed nice. I just woke up and said ... 'let's go to Tyler and get on Uber.'"
The 21-year-old was excited to use his day off as a dishwasher at the Jalapeño Tree in Athens to make extra money in the city where he was born. A musician on the side, Mulkey said if he never got an Uber ride request, the drive to Tyler wouldn't be a waste, because he could always sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and make some spare change the old fashioned way.
Mulkey was among the first drivers to sign up on the app, but the first Tyler ride happened a day earlier.
Wednesday morning, Tyler City Councilman John Nix and his wife, Stori, became the first to use Uber in Tyler.
The couple was driven from City Hall to the downtown square by the first approved Uber driver, Brian West.
Nix was chosen as "rider zero" by the company for his efforts to help bring the ridesharing app to Tyler.
The app officially switched on for Tyler at 2 p.m. Thursday. The company is offering free rides over the weekend. Nix said he plans to use the service again on a date night to the city's downtown film festival this weekend.
"I'm excited about Uber coming to Tyler," Nix said. "I think it will be great for Tyler's economy and Tyler's image as a forward-thinking city. It's positive for our tourist industry and for those coming to town."
New Tyler Uber users who download the app and enter their payment information are eligible for a free ride this weekend, from Sept. 22 to 25. The benefit caps at $25 for five rides, and the company warns availability may be limited because of demand. It recommends refreshing the app afer a few minutes to request a ride, according to a news release from the company.
Uber's launch was possible after the Aug. 24 adoption of a deregulated transportation ordinance, which put ride-sharing apps and traditional taxi companies under the same regulations in the city.
The company waited to turn on the app in the city until it had enough drivers. Too few drivers would create a false increase in demand, and increase prices of the rides on the platform, Uber representatives have said.
Mulkey plans to get his car washed and cleaned out and pick out nicer clothes for his next rider. He said he's excited about the job.
He loves driving and aspires to be a truck driver. Growing up with family in the military, Mulkey has met friends who live at far distances and he often goes to visit them.
"I get in at least 1,000 miles a week," he said.
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