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Uber, Lyft put pressure on local taxis

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 22, 2017

This Monday, May 16, 2016, file photo shows a smartphone displaying the Lyft app, in Detroit. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
This Monday, May 16, 2016, file photo shows a smartphone displaying the Lyft app, in Detroit. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
By Anthony Kuipers Moscow-Pullman Daily News

There have been mixed reactions from local taxi companies to the news of ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft beginning operations in Pullman.

Uber and Lyft, which allow people to hail rides using an app, officially launched Sept. 29 in Pullman, two weeks after the Pullman City Council amended its background check requirements to appease the companies.

Danny Keene, driver for Pro Cabs, which operates in Pullman and Moscow, said he and owner Mary Torrence were upset with the City Council “for doing a 180” and changing the rules. He said Uber and Lyft have already began to take business away from their company.

“All in all, we’re really not happy,” he said.

He said in an area with roughly 60,000 people, there isn’t a big enough market for local cab companies to avoid being pushed out.

One company that is not worried is Pullman Taxi. Kyle Brown, who grew up in Moscow, owns Pullman Taxi and Moscow Taxi. The company, which began 3 1/2 years ago, currently has two drivers in Pullman and is pushing to have more drivers operating there full time.

He felt Uber and Lyft’s move into Pullman was inevitable, and he anticipates their model will work, but he also expects his company will be able to survive thanks to its local roots.

He said passengers value their service and being familiar with their driver.

“We get to know people,” he said. “We know their names.”

Brown said people appreciate knowing the person picking them up, and he believes Pullman Taxi’s prices are “right in the same ballpark” as Uber’s.

The owner of the largest taxi company in the area, College Cabs, also sees the positives and negatives in the arrival of ride-hailing companies.

“I’d like if they weren’t here,” Rob Borden said of Uber and Lyft.

He was also opposed to the City Council amending its background check rules. He said it will be difficult to compete with a company with such a large name, particularly when it comes to attracting business from out-of-towners unfamiliar with College Cabs. He said Uber will likely be those customers’ first choice as they look for rides.

“They are going to take some level of market share,” Borden said.

The silver lining is that more people will realize they have options when it comes to getting a ride to and from a destination.

Borden said that before College Cabs came on the scene, there were very few cabs operating in Pullman. That changed after College Cabs started, and people found it was reliable to get service, he said. Thus, more people were willing to head downtown without a designated driver knowing they could get a ride home in a cab.

More taxi companies began operations, and “we’ve seem a huge explosion in the cab market” in the last four to five years, he said.

He hopes Uber and Lyft’s presence will result in a similar trend, with more supply leading to more demand, and thus more people discovering College Cabs and its fleet of 15 cabs.

He said College Cab’s smartphone app “works just as well, if not better than” Uber’s, and its prices on average are only 50 cents to a dollar more expensive than the ride-hailing company.

Borden also emphasized College Cab’s local roots and the importance of supporting a local business.

College Cabs employs just under 30 drivers, some part time and some full time, and he said the average salary is $30,000 a year.

“Hopefully, the community will stand behind its local companies,” he said.

A spokesperson for Lyft said the company does not share how many drivers work in a specific area.

“I can tell you we’re seeing a lot of excitement from drivers to sign up as we get started in Pullman,” she said.

Uber did not provide the number of its drivers in Pullman to the Daily News by press time.

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