After dipping its toe in the Martha’s Vineyard taxi pool, Uber, the app-based ride-sharing service is jumping in with both feet. The company announced that beginning at 5pm, Friday this Memorial Day weekend, UberX will be in full operation on the Island, and over 20 other east coast vacation destinations, including Nantucket, Cape Cod, Bar Harbor, the Hamptons and the New Jersey shore.
In an email to The Times late Wednesday, Uber spokesman Craig Ewer said, “Now that we’ve announced our official launch, we’re working hard to ensure that there are enough drivers on the road to meet the increased demand we expect over the holiday weekend and through the summer.”
Mr. Ewer said that there are “dozens” of Uber drivers already operating on Martha’s Vineyard. The cost of an uberX ride is $2.50 base fare plus $0.25 per minute and $1.90 per mile. Mr. Ewer also said that UberX is about 31 percent cheaper than a local taxi, however this claim has not been verified by The Times.
Local taxi cab companies have bitterly complained to local boards of selectmen about the prospect of what they said would be unfair competition from Uber and asked town officials to intercede to block the service from operating on the Island. Since Uber is legally considered a transport network company (TNC) and not a traditional taxi company, the question of regulation remains a fluid one.
In a letter dated May 7 addressed to West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand, town counsel Ronald Rappaport said the town’s current regulations only pertain to traditional taxi cab companies. Mr. Rappaport said that in his opinion, current regulations do not give the board the power to regulate TNC’s, but state law gives the board “broad authority to promulgate regulations governing TNCs.” Mr. Rappaport said the town could expand its rules and regulations after following its procedures for doing so.
“The Governor has recently filed a bill with the state legislature to establish a state-wide law regulating TNCs,” Mr. Rappaport added. “However, until the legislation is final and enacted into law, it is too early to assess what impact the law may have, if any, on the town’s authority to regulate TNCs locally.”
At a meeting of the Oak Bluffs selectmen on April 28, police Chief Erik Blake said that state law cannot be superseded by local bylaws. “I can enforce taxi-stand and bus-stop violations, but because people are doing commerce with their phones, it’s very hard to oversee,” he said.
Uber is an on-demand car service that enables drivers who qualify to use their own cars and to work their own hours, as independent contractors. Uber can also be used by taxi drivers and car services. Using the free app for iPhone and Android devices, riders request service and the type of vehicle they want. Dispatch software sends the nearest driver to the location, and tells the riders how long their wait will be. The Uber app signup requires a credit card number, so no cash changes hands. The app also comes with a fare calculator, so riders will know how much they’ll be paying before the car shows up.
Uber charges are based on a combination of time and distance, and vary by location.