Uber makes waves on Martha’s Vineyard

Island taxi drivers are concerned that Uber will affect their business through unfair competition.

Taxicab owners are concerned about the impact should Uber begin to operate on Martha's Vineyard. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Uber, the Internet-driven ride-sharing service that has boomed in popularity in America and around the world, may soon have a presence on the Vineyard. “We’re currently exploring the Martha’s Vineyard market and using ads to test its viability,” an Uber spokesperson told The Times last week.

According to Uber statistics, more than 10,000 Massachusetts drivers have signed up to drive for the transportation network company (TNC). Last week Uber began advertising for drivers on the Island.
Also last week, Gov. Charlie Baker introduced legislation that will require all TNCs to properly vet their drivers, and to require each driver to carry a minimum of $1 million of insurance coverage. This was already Uber policy, according to their spokesperson. “Every Uber trip is backed by a $1 million commercial insurance policy, and all drivers who wish to partner with us must pass a multitiered background check that examines federal, state, and county records,” he wrote in an email. “In addition, drivers must pass all vehicle inspections required by their state or local governments. In the case of Massachusetts, that means an annual check at a licensed inspection station.” Uber does not check cars for cleanliness; however, individual cars and drivers can be rated by their passengers.

Uber was also a topic of discussion at Tuesday night’s Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting. “I don’t see that there’s any way to stop it,” Selectman Gail Barmakian said.

Selectman Walter Vail said he’d like to see how Uber operates in Boston under the governor’s new legislation before making any recommendations.

Police Chief Erik Blake said that state law cannot be superseded by local bylaws.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.

4Uber 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.