Report car(d): Uber/Lyft close in on one-year anniversary in Wyoming

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft have been operating in Wyoming since the state became the 47th to allow for the regulation and legalization of transportation network companies last spring. Governor Mead signed into law House Bill 80 (the “Uber Bill”) March 3, 2017. Uber was operating in Jackson within hours that day.

So how is it working so far?

Uber and Lyft users and opponents of the service said at the time they were interested in competition hopefully bringing down rates some called “robbery.” Reports of $30 rides from town to Melody, $35 rides from the West Bank to town, and as much as $45 from town to Game Creek prompted many Buckrail readers to chime in as the bill was being discussed last year.

Others enjoyed the convenience of the app-hailing feature, even though availability of Uber and Lyft drivers in Jackson Hole is still somewhat limited.

Rideshare options were not embraced by many in the existing taxi community, however. Snake River Taxi owner Tyler Pitman was just one example of local hacks who were skeptical of the invasion. Pitman was joined by Casper Cabs owner Tom Elliott who told the city council in March, “Uber is, in my opinion, a semi-legal taxi operation that has spread around the globe like a virus.”

Ouch.

Well, meet the virus. Bryce Thornberry has been driving for Uber since March 6 of last year. He joined Lyft as well a few weeks later. He’s logged close to a thousand trips at this point. Business for him has been so good, he’s quitting his ‘day job’ to drive full time. He upgraded recently to a Cadillac Escalade ESV to provide better service and UberXL options.

From his first day behind the wheel, it was nonstop for Thornberry. “The ride requests never stopped. For hours and hours, you would just drive, and it was fantastic. I’m loving it,” he said.

Tony Ligori (L) receives the Chamber’s Golden Spur Award from Jeff Golightly. Ligori was recognized for true western hospitality after he provided transportation for an ill tourist to a medical clinic and then returned two hours later to check on the man and give him a ride to his hotel. (Chamber of Commerce)

Tony Ligori is not loving it.

After selling the Painted Buffalo Inn, Ligori grew bored with retirement. He began JAC Transportation in 2012. His beef with the ride hailing industry is multi-faceted.

“We have to get a business license from the city. We are required to carry a minimum of insurance of $500,000 with the city. We need a special driver’s license with the city. Our vehicles have to be inspected. The city controls everything that the taxi drivers do including background checks,” Ligori said. “They don’t have to have Wyoming license plates or anything. Uber gets legislative preference. I’ve complained about this to [Senator] Leland Christensen and [Representative] Mike Gierau. Uber needs to be regulated as a taxi.”

Thornberry said most local cab companies have warmed to the idea of sharing the roads with Uber. He tries to treat his fellow drivers with respect and understands some of their concerns.

“I understand why taxi companies are frustrated with Uber and Lyft,” Thornberry said. “Taxi companies are required to carry $1,000,000 worth of insurance, register with the state and town of Jackson, and are bound to charge the set rates that the town provides. This must be frustrating as Uber drivers send in pictures of their registration and basic insurance and are live a few hours later.”

Thornberry can’t speak for his peers but as for himself, he’s going the extra mile.

“I want to continue to be on the cutting edge of this technology, but I want to respect the town and taxi drivers. The reality is that Uber drivers may choose to have insurance that may not cover them in the event of an accident, and that’s just not okay. I have made the personal decision, and am in the process of registering my newly formed LLC, in order to personally be able to offer all options to customers, but also to be 100% above board and more than compliant with regulations,” Thornberry said. “There are places where Uber drivers are required to have taxi licenses and I think that may happen here. Frankly, I think it’s what should happen. It would certainly level the playing field for taxi companies and rideshare drivers alike.”

Example of Uber’s surge pricing this past New Year’s Eve when rides were hard to find.

Ligori also took personal exception to Uber’s surge pricing model. “They can raise prices whenever they want,” he complained. One particular app solicitation on New Year’s Eve resulted in a quote of $178.40 ($303.48 for UberXL) for a trip from Four Seasons Resort to Snow King Avenue in town. The Uber app claimed, “It’s busy, fares are a lot higher than normal.”

Uber uses a surge price multiplier to determine the going rate of any trip in real time. The computational algorithm is thought to be complicated and is a closely guarded company secret. Basically, when demand is higher than supply (think NYE, rainy weather, etc) prices go up.

Ligori said Uber and Lyft have not yet taken a huge bite out of the local taxi company business because they simply don’t have enough drivers at this point. Still, he’s seeking some kind of follow up from state lawmakers after the passage of HB80 last year.

Rep. Gierau said it’s probably too early to get a feel for how Uber and Lyft are doing in the state and what potential adjustments might be needed to state statute. “I’m not aware of any major complaints, really,” Gierau said. One thing is for sure, it won’t happen at next month’s Legislative budget session, where the primary focus is budget and finance.

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