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Without a Car in Norfolk? Call a Chauffeur!

By David Beers

On a sunny Saturday morning, two friends and I met at the Berkshire Country Store to make a trip to Winsted. I pulled out my phone and used my Uber app to call up a ride. (I also have a Lyft app, but Lyft does not have a presence yet in northwest Connecticut.) My phone GPS pinged my location to available drivers in the area, and I entered the destination address, the Winsted IGA. Peter Guglielmino responded with a quote of $16 for the trip, in his Honda Accord, and an arrival time of 15 minutes. I hit the “Accept” button and my wife’s credit card paid for the ride. As we drank our coffees, we watched the map on my phone, where a dot representing Guglielmino’s car moved toward us, updating its ETA.

If you are surprised by this scenario, you are not alone. Most Norfolkians I have talked to think that such services are only available in the big cities. In fact, two kinds of chauffeured rides are available in Norfolk: taxi and rideshare (aka real-time ridesharing).

Those of us over 30 are likely less familiar with rideshare services. In the Northeast, ridesharing is dominated by the companies Uber and Lyft, which sprang up when smartphones became ubiquitous around 2010. To connect drivers of personal vehicles with folks needing a ride, ridesharing services depend on the smartphone’s combined capacity for transmitting over the cellular Internet and fixing position through its GPS device.

Taxis, which have been around since the dawn of the horseless carriage, are licensed and regulated by state and local governments. Drivers and cars of rideshare services, however, are unregulated in many states, including Connecticut (a bone of contention with the heavily regulated taxi industry). Rideshare companies self-regulate to the extent that they perform criminal and motor vehicle background checks on their drivers, who must be over 21 and whose vehicle must be less than 10 years old. Some localities have banned ridesharing, including Portland, Ore., and the state of Nevada, owing to concerns over rider safety and lack of regulation.

Rates for a taxi (above) and for Uber are very similar.

True to schedule, our Uber car arrived at Station Place in 15 minutes, and we all piled in. Guglielmino told us that he is one of three part-time Uber drivers working out of Winsted, with more drivers based in Torrington and Great Barrington. Most of them drive part-time as a moonlighting gig, and Guglielmino is among them, but a few are full-time drivers. Guglielmino has been driving for a year and thoroughly enjoys conversing with his varied clientele. He provides a lot of rides for the Chinese students who attend the Gilbert School in Winsted. He also takes passengers to the airport and to train stations, and he does pickups at the private schools in the Canton area. I asked about trips to or from Norfolk, and he said he has provided a few rides in Norfolk to Yale summer students and to Infinity Hall patrons. His longest ride was to Syracuse, N.Y., and he has made a few trips to New York City. Uber pays him a percentage of each ride and treats him as an independent contractor. He chooses when he works and what rides he services. Like many Uber drivers, he has a talkative, friendly personality, and he provides his passengers with a few extra perks (bottled water, phone charger, satellite radio). At the completion of an Uber ride, both the rider and the driver can rate each other 1-5. I gave Guglielmino a 5. I hope he gave me a good rating too.

Reporter David Beers heads back to Norfolk by taxi.

We called a taxicab to come home. While some taxi companies now offer their own apps to hail rides like we did with Uber, for this ride we used the Internet to look up a local taxi company and made a call to Valley Cab. The cab came just as quickly as Uber and was the exact same price. We all piled in, with some groceries we bought in Winsted, and headed out. Our driver, Ahmed Reija, works full time for Valley Cab out of Plainville as an independent contractor. He covers Torrington, Winsted and northwest Connecticut. Most of his rides are prearranged, to take people to scheduled medical appointments, but he also makes many trips to Bradley Airport and the Metro North train stations. Like Guglielmino, he makes an occasional trip to New York City. Unlike Guglielmino, the 2011 Toyota Camry he drives is owned by Valley Cab.

Getting a taxi or Uber ride is in our small town is a snap. Who knew?! Both can be reserved in advance—by calling the taxi company or clicking the schedule button on your Uber app.

This is the second in a series of short articles about transportation alternatives in Norfolk.

Photos: Top, Part-time Uber driver Peter Guglielmino of Winsted discusses the ins and outs of the rideshare service with David Beers. All photos by Bruce Frisch.

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