Uber revving up service on both sides of Lake Tahoe; not everyone on board | NevadaAppeal.com

Uber revving up service on both sides of Lake Tahoe; not everyone on board

Kaleb M. Roedel
kroedel@sierrasun.com

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — With a population that can swell to 300,000 on peak days, Lake Tahoe overflows with people bustling to and from the slopes during the winter ski season.

This winter, those flocks of locals and visitors have a new way to migrate around the region: Uber drivers.

Continuing to expand its ridesharing service across the country, Uber is launching on both sides of Lake Tahoe on Thursday of this week.

In a kick-off event (weather permitting) scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at the Village at Squaw Valley, Olympic skier and Squaw Valley ski resort ambassador Jonny Moseley, and professional Squaw Valley skier Cody Townsend will take the first official Uber ride in Tahoe from Squaw Valley to Alpine Meadows.

"We're really excited because we know a lot of people are going to be in Tahoe, especially for the ski season, they're coming from all over the country," Uber spokeswoman Laura Zapata told the Sierra Sun. "We think Tahoe is a really good opportunity to be able to lend that service."

This week, Uber has held what it calls onboarding sessions at Squaw to "build out the supply and see how many people are willing and able to drive with Uber," Zapata said.

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At the sessions, which started Monday and end Thursday, prospective drivers are able to sign up and go through a prescreening process with Uber officials.

"It's a seasonal town, everybody's looking to make a little more money here or there and I thought that'd be fun driving people around," an Olympic Valley woman who requested to not be named said Tuesday after signing up. "I've been here in the Tahoe area since 1998 and sometimes it's harder to get cabs, and their prices aren't as consistent. I think this way (with Uber) you know what you're getting yourself into — you know the price of the cab, you know exactly where they are, how long it's going to be, and who's picking you up."

While Tahoe has been on Uber's radar for years, the company was reportedly able to move forward with launching on the north and south shores earlier this year when it got the green light to operate in Nevada as a Transportation Network Company (TNC). Uber has been regulated to run in California since 2013.

There is a wrinkle, however, that Uber drivers have to keep in mind. Though drivers can drop off passengers in both Nevada and California, they can only do pickups in the state that their driver's license is from.

For example, a driver in Truckee can't pick up someone from Incline Village.

NOT ALL ABOARD?

Not everyone is on board with Uber dropping anchor at Lake Tahoe. At the front of the opposition line are taxi companies.

"I don't think it's fair for an outside company — this huge takeover, global company — to come into small towns and destroy small businesses," said Charles Vogt, owner of the Tahoe Independent Taxi Group. "My friends and I built these taxi companies, and we have families that we're going to be feeding all winter long.

"For them to come into Tahoe and take a piece of that and step over what we've already accomplished, it's complete B.S."

Vogt, who started the company in 2006, went on to question the validity of Uber's claim that it is not, in fact, a taxi company.

"It's sad to see that they don't have to go through the same process of licensing," Vogt said. "Tahoe is divided up into counties, and each county has tweaks to their licensing. They (Uber) try to say they aren't a taxi company, but that's exactly what it is."

Zapata, however, said that Uber is a "technology company," not a taxi company.

"What we do is we have this app that connects riders with drivers," she explained. "We're a market place that brings people together so that they can have a transaction. It's basically placing technology in the middle of two people who are looking to either give a ride or get a ride.

"We make sure that people that are going to be providing the services are vetted and that they're safe, that's why we do pre-screening."

Nevada lawmakers passed bills this spring creating a legal framework for Uber and other ride-hailing companies like Lyft that's separate from taxi rules, according to the Associated Press. Both Uber and Lyft launched in Nevada in September.

Nevertheless, Vogt feels that taxi companies will hold the advantage on Uber.

"People come to Tahoe and they want to work with a team who has been there and done that," Vogt said. "When you come into Tahoe and come into an Uber car you don't know what you're getting. You can't make any big plans. They're just going to get some random person to come pick them up?"

According to the AP, an Uber-sponsored survey found that in the past year, the number of Uber drivers has doubled from 160,000 to over 400,000. As of November 2015, women Uber drivers make up 19 percent of all drivers, compared to 14 percent in December 2014.

How to become an Uber driver

• Be 21 years or older

• Submit and pass a background check

• Have an eligible vehicle: 2002 model or newer, 4-doors, clean title (non-salvaged)

• Pass a vehicle inspection

Source: Uber. Visit uber.com to learn more.

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