Airport service Down, but competition’s up

Since ride-hailing enterprise Uber Technologies Inc. arrived in Colorado Springs in 2014, it has become increasingly popular as a transportation option for consumers, a full-time employment opportunity for drivers and increased competition for taxi companies.

The private company is valued at more than $62 billion by investors, and the app-based transportation network now operates in more than 60 countries and 537 U.S. cities — and according to Uber spokesperson Taylor Patterson, visitors from 20 different countries have used its services in Colorado Springs.

“Business has grown exponentially, and we see it continue to grow as more riders and drivers sign up in the Springs,” she said.

But Uber drivers now have a barrier to success: As of this week, Uber is no longer available at the Colorado Springs Airport.

It leaves both drivers with the question: How will this affect the local market and their bottom line?

AIRPORT SERVICE ENDS

As of Monday, Dec. 5, Uber services to and from the airport were discontinued because of the company’s ping system, Patterson said.

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“We’ve been operating there for some time, and it’s worked well. However, we’re trying to work issues on the back end, related to technology,” she said.

Common reasons people request an Uber ride are for drop-off and pick-up transportation at bars, school — and the airport.

In this case, however, the decision to halt airport services rests with Uber, as they work out technical issues with the app.

“With people being used to using Uber to get to and from the airport, and then suddenly unable to do so, we know is a big issue,” Patterson said. “We are working closely with the airport to come up with next steps [to solve the technical issue].”

FLEXIBLE INCOME

Colorado Springs native Dusty LaPerriere worked as an Uber driver for eight months, initially for extra money. But his side job soon became his main income, he said, after he was laid off from his full-time job.

“I was sort of thrust into it as a means of providing for my family for a while,” he said. “It’s very good for that if you’re willing to dedicate the time.”

And although it took LaPerriere only a week to become a driver, he said Uber has thorough requirements before putting drivers on the road under its logo — including background checks, vehicle safety inspections and Department of Transportation physical exams.

LaPerriere typically drove 30 to 50 hours a week. His busiest times were weekend calls, driving people downtown, from Fort Carson or near local hot spots like Ivywild.

Minimum fare for drivers in Colorado Springs is $6.95.

“I would drive to Denver on some weekends because it surged more [when prices rise due to higher demand] and I could make more money — which as a Colorado Springs driver, you’re able to do because you can drive anywhere in the state,” he said.

One of the best parts of the job is its flexible hours, LaPerriere said.

“You can drive 12 hours a day, seven days a week and make a lot of money — or you can drive one hour a week and make enough to pay for a few drinks,” he said.

And because major safety issues or regulatory legislation with Uber haven’t occurred locally, LaPerriere said he thinks it’s a great service here.

“It puts more money into the pockets of local businesses because people can afford to go out more or are more likely to go out,” he said. “For a driver, there are good friends and experiences to be made; conversations to be had with passengers; and especially in a great community like Colorado Springs.”

Not only was Uber a consistent income, LaPerriere said, it was fulfilling to help keep citizens safe.

“It is an enriching part of my life to make people’s nights better and safer.

“I drove at night a lot for Uber and Lyft just because that’s when it’s busier, but didn’t spend as much time with my family,” he said. “But I would consider driving for the company again if needed.”

Uber is an affordable and convenient service in Colorado Springs, he said.

“As a rider you can mitigate its costs by planning your ride ahead of time — avoiding surge periods — and as a driver, you can capitalize on that, learning what the busy times are.”

INCREASED COMPETITION

As business booms for transportation network companies, the future of the taxicab industry is growing more uncertain for the three cab companies operating in Colorado Springs. Are Uber and Lyft healthy or unfair competition?

According to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, rides for Yellow Cab of Colorado Springs decreased from 549,330 in 2014 to 466,945 metered trips in 2015.

And Yellow Cab officials said the Uber and Lyft presence in Colorado Springs has caused the business to reevaluate almost every aspect of its operation — making quite a few changes, including rolling out its own app in October, called zTrip.

“Unlike other apps, customers can pay with cash or a credit card,” said general manager Fred Hair. “And there’s personal service with no surge pricing. We’ve also upgraded our computer dispatching system and reservation services.”

Transportation network companies haven’t hurt his company so far, Hair said.

“We are asking the Public Utilities Commission for ways to offer flexible fares, as well as less cumbersome means of temporarily adding vehicles during periods of high demand,” he said. “New Year’s Eve and cold weather create relatively short periods of very high demand.”

Passengers also need to keep in mind that the Public Utilities Commission holds taxicab companies to higher standards than transportation network companies, Hair said.

“Our drivers go through a fingerprint background check, and inspection standards are higher for taxicabs than TNC vehicles,” he added.

But LaPerriere said it still doesn’t excuse taxicab prices.

“Their rates are much higher, like one-and-a-half to two times more is typically the feedback I would get back from Uber passengers,” he said.

“They would tell me that they had switched to Uber and Lyft because it was more affordable, and they didn’t have to ride in something that was bright yellow. Then again, some people aren’t comfortable getting into someone’s personal car — so that’s where it depends on the person.”