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State Rep. Armando Martinez was the first person to take a ride with Uber in the Rio Grande Valley. He is pictured with an Uber car outside the offices of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership in Weslaco.

WESLACO, RGV – On average, over 41 drunk-driving incidents occur daily in Hidalgo County, state Rep. Armando Martinez stated at an Uber news conference.

The Rio Grande Valley Partnership hosted the launch of Uber in the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday with the support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the local legislative delegation.

The first ride happened after the news conference with Rep. Martinez, D-Weslaco, vice-chairman of the House Transportation Committee, as the passenger.

“There are over 41 drunk-driving incidents that occur daily in Hidalgo County. This (Uber’s arrival in the Valley) is going to help us change that,” Martinez said.

Sergio Contreras, president of RGV Partnership, said that with ride-sharing companies such as Uber in the Valley, restaurant goers will be able to dine longer and shoppers shop longer. “We are fortunate to have Uber in our region. They will support our goal of reducing congestion across our Valley,” Contreras.

Much like Lyft, a competitive company similar to Uber that made its way to the region months before, Uber is accessed and utilized through a cellular application that connects you to the nearest driver upon requesting a ride to any given destination.

According to David Brightman, general manager of Uber in the Valley, there were over 1,200 car crashes and over 30 fatalities due to impaired driving last year in the region. “Let that soak in,” he said. Because of this, Brightman said he is enthusiastic that Uber will prove popular. He said it was fitting that the service is being introduced right before the July 4 weekend.

“We are really excited to be here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Brightman said. “Ultimately, Uber and MADD feel strongly that drunk driving is completely preventable, and we are really, really excited to make that a reality in the Rio Grande Valley.”

He urged those who may be too intoxicated to drive themselves home to utilize the company’s services.

“Our goal is to make sure people have access to safe, reliable transportation at the push of a button, at any time they need it,” Brightman said. He said by using the promo code “Rio Grande Valley” users can get $15 off their first ride.

Ana Verley, a victim’s services specialist with MADD, said the non-profit was happy to partner with Uber due to the fact that they specialize in preventing future crashes and serving victims of alcohol-related automobile accidents.
Since 1980, when MADD was formed, drunk driving deaths have been cut in half, Verley said. “We have saved more than 350,000 lives with our work and served nearly a million victims, and our services for free,” Verley said. “But, we still have more work to do.”

MADD’s analytics indicate that in 2016, 3,773 people died on the road and 987 of these deaths were caused by alcohol, representing 26 percent of all the fatalities. She said Hidalgo County had 23 fatalities and 837 serious injury crashes in 2016. “Those are pretty scary numbers,” Verley said. The average alcoholic-related crash occurs during the late hours of the night, typically between 12 a.m. and 2:59 a.m., she reported.

“We are never going to give up until we have no more victims,” Verley said. “We have we partnered with Uber? Because we want everyone to get home safely.”

Even though Uber is dedicated in working to curb this regional issue, its mission statement suggests the company is more than just helping people make it home after a long night of drinking. Their goal, Brightman said, is to make sure people have safe and reliable transportation whenever they need it, regardless of where they live.

Uber’s ability to create an app that allows the user to acquire a ride very simply has been paramount to its success since the company was founded in 2009, Brightman said. He said it is a success they plan to continue in the Rio Grande Valley.

Anyone wishing to become an Uber driver can download the Uber driver app on any app store or directly from the company’s website. After entering personal information, an applicant must consent to a multi-state criminal background check. Once clearance is gained, the applicate can officially drive for Uber within one to two weeks.