Talking tech since 2003

In the past, living in Pennsylvania meant the closest you got to Uber was being jealous of your friends in New York City and San Francisco.

No more.

Uber, a ride share service popular with those in larger cities, officially launched in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as of yesterday afternoon at 5 p.m., thanks to a two-year experimental license granted to the company by Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission. At launch time, Harrisburg’s mayor took the state’s first Uber ride around a block with PUC Commissioner Pamela A. Witmer; today, anyone in the Harrisburg area, as well as those in Pittsburgh, can summon an UberX car with their smartphone.

I don’t often get to write about tech or startup stories that come out of my area, so this bit of news is particularly cool to me. Despite being a state capital, Harrisburg rarely makes the list of cities that startups want to expand into until they’ve gone just about everywhere else. There are a lot of services I’ve love to have here (TaskRabbit, Amazon Fresh, etc.), but whether its a matter of population size or demographics, Harrisburg rarely gets a look until a company has scaled its product enough to launch everywhere.

Now, lets dig into the dirt about Uber.

We’re not getting a flawless company, here. Uber and its CEO, Travis Kalanick, have had their share of issues. Uber has come under fire for failing to adequately vet its drivers. Kalanick has also shown a willingness to run Uber in places it hasn’t yet been approved. This actually happened in Pennsylvania, where the PUC attempted to subpoena him (an attempt that failed just days ago) to learn more about how many rides the company coordinated while operating illegally in Allegheny County. It also happened in South Korea, where Kalanick was actually indicted by prosecutors.

And, really, read this and try not to slam your figurative gavel down, finding Travis Kalanick “douchey.”

All that aside — will Uber ultimately benefit the state? I’m leaning toward yes at this point. As far as taxis go in Harrisburg, I’ve found that any night that isn’t Friday or Saturday night sucks for finding a ride (I can’t speak for Pittsburgh). The easier it is to find one, the more people will probably take advantage. And for the drivers, Uber serves as an easy way to make some spare loot when it’s most convenient.

So hats off to Pennsylvania’s PUC on allowing the company into the state. The two-year license was wise; Uber needs to prove itself, and its a company that should be watched closely. But for a state that’s behind in so many other ways, allowing Uber in, albeit temporarily, makes the climate more inviting for similar startups.

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