Lyft ride-sharing company enters Vail Valley market, will not service airport | VailDaily.com

Lyft ride-sharing company enters Vail Valley market, will not service airport

Lyft, a popular, app-driven transportation service, has expanded into a handful of mountain markets in Colorado over the past month. Through the app, independent drivers are dispatched to people who want rides.

EAGLE COUNTY — The competition between popular, app-driven transportation services has expanded into Colorado's high country.

Lyft announced last month it had started operations in six mountain markets, including the Vail Valley. Other markets are Glenwood Springs to Aspen, Summit County, Grand County (Winter Park) and Clear Creek County (Idaho Springs). The expansion also includes the area between Montrose and Telluride.

Lyft is similar to Uber, the top brand in the market, in that an app dispatches independent drivers to people who want rides. Riders usually pay rates lower than conventional taxi companies, although peak-demand periods will bring what the services call "surge pricing."

Gabe Cohen, Lyft's general manager for the Rocky Mountain region, said the August launch was successful for both riders and drivers.

The company doesn't disclose its driver numbers, but Cohen said the service has "the right number" of drivers right now.

Independent contractors

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That said, Cohen said the company is always looking for drivers and will make another push to find drivers — generally on Craigslist, through social media channels and using recruiters on the ground in communities — for ski season.

Drivers use their own vehicles and insurance, and must own vehicles no more than 10 years old. Drivers must pass background and driving record checks, as well as medical interviews.

"It's super simple," Cohen said. "It's all self-serve, and it's a flexible earning opportunity."

Drivers are independent contractors, which means they're paid through the service, but are responsible for taxes.

Jason Steinberg drove a few months for Uber, but added he hasn't driven in about 18 months.

Steinberg said drivers have to pay close attention to their tax liability through the ride-sharing services or can "get screwed" during tax season.

No airport access

While both Lyft and Uber provide rides in the valley, drivers for those services aren't allowed to pick up or drop off users at the Eagle County Regional Airport. Both companies have asked county officials for different rates than those charged to other ground-transportation firms and have been denied.

Cohen said besides the fees, there are "other, onerous requirements" at the airport.

"We're serving every other airport in the region," Cohen said.

In an email, Eagle County Aviation Director Kip Turner wrote that Uber and Lyft are viewed "the same as other commercial ground-transportation providers."

With roughly 60 other ground-transportation companies serving the airport, Turner wrote that "it's hard to justify having a different standard of rates, rules and standards … for one or two companies that offer a different service."

Mechelle Cappel is a co-owner of one of those companies, Elite Limousine.

Cappel said her company's business has been affected by the ride-sharing services, but isn't sure to what extent. With that in mind, Cappel isn't a fan of ride-sharing.

Higher standards?

Cappel said limo and taxi companies have to meet more stringent standards for drivers, vehicles and operations than ride-sharing services. That creates an uneven playing field for the established firms, she said.

Cappel said the safety and security standards are more stringent for established firms. So is the insurance requirement.

Taxi and limo companies are required to carry commercial insurance, Cappel said. Since drivers for ride-sharing services carry personal insurance, riders can't be certain how well-covered they might be in case of an accident.

Elite Limousine is a member of the National Limousine Association, a nonprofit industry group.

That group has a section on its website called "Ride Responsibly," which provides information on what it calls "best practices" in the ground-transportation business and encourages riders to "Think Before You App."

But ride-sharing is becoming a business reality in the region.

"We're excited about the winter," Cohen said. "We've got some fun partnerships we're working on. … We think a lot of people will use Lyft to get into the mountains from Denver."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

By the numbers

150,000: Times users opened the Lyft app in the central Rockies between January and Aug. 1.

6: Mountain markets recently loaded into the Lyft website.

100 million: Uber downloads from the Google Play store.

10 million: Lyft downloads from the Google Play store.

Source: Google Play store, Lyft