No one knows it, but that’s his real name and now his “driver” name with Uber even though his family and friends know him only as Jule Carenbauer.
Jule. Short for Julius, his middle given name.
“But Uber keeps everything on the up-and-up,” he said. “They take the information straight from your driver’s license, so there you go. I’m ‘Harry, the Uber Guy.’”
Carenbauer met all the requirements set forth by the company, and he’s been a registered driver for the riding service for more than a year because the state lawmakers in West Virginia approved the service in 2016. His license is valid; he’s fully insured; and his four-door vehicle is a 2008 Volkswagen Passat, six years younger than what Uber mandates.
“I never drove, though, because Uber didn’t operate in the Wheeling area this past year, but I filled out the papers, and went through the background check, and ever since I’ve been waiting,” Carenbauer explained. “Uber was in a couple of cities and in Pennsylvania, but I didn’t travel there to work because my intention was to wait for it to be available in this area.
“In Pennsylvania, you weren’t allowed to drive unless your vehicle was inspected and registered in that state, and I wasn’t going to do that,” he continued. “So, I just waited until Wheeling came along because I know the area, and I know a lot of people. Now that we’re active, I’m hoping that I can get pretty busy when I decide to be on duty.”
Officials with the Wheeling Chamber of Commerce partnered with Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott in contacting the riding service, but initially the mayor reported he was informed by Uber supervisors that the city of Wheeling did not possess enough population to attract the for-profit business.
That changed suddenly, however, three weeks ago.
“I was confident it would come here, but I didn’t know how long it would take for the service to be made available in the Wheeling area,” Carenbauer said. “I know they are still trying to make sense of the whole Ohio thing, and there has been some confusion about that in the past week or so. Right now, though, I can take someone to a community in East Ohio, but that’s changed in the past week. It wasn’t that way when we first started, but I had heard it was going to change, and I am really happy that it has.
“It’s only a river, but the laws are the laws. They got that figured out, though, so I hope that adds to the ride requests,” he said. “And we are available a lot later than the buses are; that’s for sure, and now we’re an another option that hopefully gets very popular in this area.”
Those wishing to use Uber must first download the app on their smartphone. Once accomplished, a customer must enter in debit card or credit card information that can be used for ride payment. How many drivers are available depends on the time of day, Carenbauer explained, and evening and late-night hours have been the most popular thus far.
“Right now, it seems people want the rides late at night at the parties and at the bars,” he said. “You work when you want to work. That’s how Uber works for the drivers. If you turn on the app, you’re working because you’ve made yourself available to the people out there who may want a ride.
“Once I get some regular customers, they will be able to call me on the phone and arrange rides, too. It’s really up to the driver and how they want to go about it,” he said. “For me, it’s all on a 1099 tax form, and, of course, I have to pay what I owe at the end of the year. You just have to be smart, set some of the money aside for the taxes, and enjoy the extra money and tips that you do make.”
It’s his car and his gas, but Carenbauer is enthusiastic about the future of the service in the Wheeling area because of the void that’s been present in public transportation during the evening hours for an extended period of time.
“I think it has real possibilities, and that’s why I need to figure out how to work it into my overall schedule because I do have a full-time job now,” Carenbauer said. “I’m doing this because it’s something new, and it’s something I can do to get out there, meet new people, and make a little extra money all at the same time.
“For me, it’s fun to get out to see who’s out and what’s going on in the area,” he said. “I’m working full-time, and I still play a little music from time to time in the local venues, but this is another way I can add a little income and have a good time doing it. It’s real flexible because it’s my choice when I want to be on duty.”
The pricing for service is also subject to the time the ride is requested, Carenbauer said, and that means late-night pickups are more expensive than are midday rides.
“This is the way I look at it. How much is it going to cost you if you go out, drink a bunch of beers, and then get busted? That’s how I have always thought about it,” Carenbauer said. “I haven’t driven a ton yet because of how new it still is, but I’m looking forward to seeing the popularity pick up, and I believe it will.”
It’s only been a few weeks; he turns on the app to make himself available whenever he wishes to; and he’s lived in Wheeling his entire life, so Carenbauer is very aware of how the area’s residents react to change. Although local leaders have pushed for Uber to do business in the Friendly City for more than a year, the service remains too new to a population that’s average age is nearly 50 years old.
Harry Julius Carenbauer, though, believes it’s simply a matter of time.
“It’s going to take a little bit to get really popular because right now people aren’t used to it,” he said. “It’s different that people have to put their debit or credit card into the system when they get the app on their phone and something that’s definitely completely new here in the Wheeling area.
“It’s been OK so far, and the extra money I have made has been nice,” Carenbauer added. “I don’t think it’s anything I could live on right now, but who knows in the future? I feel safe doing it. Most of my riders have been from out of town so far, but once the folks in Wheeling and over in East Ohio get used to it being available, I believe the company is going to do very well in this area. I really do.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)