Since the beginning of May, Spokane’s traditional transportation services have been challenged by the arrival of smartphone-based ride-share services, which connect drivers and riders and boast that they cost less than taxicabs.
The two leaders in ride sharing, Uber and Lyft, entered the Spokane market this spring.
They’re not officially transportation services. Uber, for example, claims to be “a mobile application that connects you with a driver at the push of a button.” But cab companies are crying foul, saying ride-shares don’t face the same regulations, licensing requirements and taxation as they do, allowing the new services to undercut their prices.
Two cab operators here say they’d like to see ride-share operations carry the same commercial licenses as cab companies.
Bill Boomer, of Bill’s Friendly Rides taxi service, said he’s frustrated about the spread of ride-sharing and just wants to even the playing field. Boomer believes ride-sharing services are breaking the law.
The Spokane City Council has scheduled a study session Thursday to sort out issues with ride-sharing and taxi companies in Spokane.
Councilman Mike Fagan said he hopes the meeting will forge a middle ground, which might include the loosening of taxi regulations.
The Spokesman-Review recently tested the services of Spokane Cab, Uber and Lyft by having three people ride from Macy’s at NorthTown Mall to the Davenport Hotel downtown. The rides were requested at the same time, during the Wednesday lunch rush.
Spokane Cab, in operation since 1988, is a fully licensed and insured taxi company and the biggest cab company in Spokane. The driver was friendly and willing to answer questions about Spokane, its history, nearby lakes and all the great sites to visit. He noted the upcoming Hoopfest tournament, describing it as an athletic event that’s evolved into a party twice as big as New Year’s Eve in Spokane. While he seemed to know his stuff about Spokane, the cab’s windows didn’t open. The trip took 15 minutes with a wait time of 14 minutes. The trip cost $16.20 without tip.
Uber, one of the ride-share applications, was founded in March 2009 in San Francisco. It had a slightly longer wait time of 16 minutes. The application gave the estimated time the driver would arrive at the pick-up location, his name and his type of car, a Lincoln Navigator. The trip itself took 15 minutes and cost $14.17. Tipping isn’t allowed, but the company tips the higher-rated drivers. The driver was friendly and enthusiastic about Uber. He explained the application and how everything works.
Lyft, another ride-share application, was founded in 2012 and was the first to show up at the pick-up location. The smartphone app gave both the driver’s estimated time of arrival and a picture of him and his car. The driver showed up in about 11 minutes and was easy to find because of the furry pink mustache on the car, Lyft’s trademark. He explained Lyft doesn’t charge fares, but asks passengers to pay a “donation” based on their ride experience. The app suggests an amount but passengers can give more or less. The trip took 14 minutes and was the first to arrive at the Davenport Hotel. The suggested donation for the ride was $12 without tip.