Uber's transportation service makes it to Steamboat Springs

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— Far away from the legislative battles surrounding how to regulate services like UberX and Lyft in Denver, Steamboat Springs quietly moved into the world of smartphone-based, on-demand transportation this past winter with two licensed charter operations signing on with the Uber service.

UberX and Lyft, which employ ordinary people driving their personal cars, have been the focus of increased scrutiny in Colorado, but when Uber started in San Francisco, its classic service was connecting people wanting a comfortable ride to limo drivers during their downtime through a smartphone application.

“You kind of think of it as a big city thing,” said Will Stone, of Boat Ride Transportation. “It doesn't necessarily have to be.”

Stone along with his fiancée, Carol Connolly, were the first to sign up for Uber in Steamboat Springs this past December.

In February, Jay Willson, of Alternate Routt Charters, followed suit, and he’ll be online for the summer season starting Thursday night. Stone also said he plans to get online this weekend.

Stone said he doesn’t think he’s had a single local use the service yet, but he got a request only 15 minutes after logging in to drive for the first time this past winter.

“They were actually pretty stoked,” he said about the group’s reaction to finding the service was available.

The application requires users to enter their credit card information, and the entire transaction is done without any money changing hands between the rider and driver. Visitors who use the service elsewhere and already have an account set up likely make a habit of opening the app wherever they go to check for drivers.

“I found it was younger people,” Willson said about the riders he started picking up.

He saw a lot of users from Boulder, college students here on ski trips and people from cities where the service is popular, such as Atlanta and Chicago.

Stone agreed that his riders have been young and said they’ve essentially all been younger than 40.

Willson said that during winter he typically was logged in to drive during weekend evenings when the most guests would be in town and needing rides.

His busy period was between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., Willson said, and it seemed to coincide with when the lodging shuttles stopped running.

This summer, Willson is hoping the earlier cut off time for bus service leads to more business during the weekends. He is offering a promo code for $20 off the first ride on his website. There also are a lot of weddings in sometimes far flung locations across the county, Willson said, and guests might instinctively go to Uber for a ride.

“I definitely expect there to be a fair amount of business,” Stone said.

The main business for Stone and Willson remains chartered SUV rides. They have the required permits to pick up and drop off riders at either Yampa Valley Regional Airport or Denver International Airport, and they offer other custom trips and both have commercial insurance.

Unfortunately, the distance between their base locations and YVRA in Hayden is just outside the range of Uber’s application, meaning someone who lands in Hayden can’t immediately request either driver with Uber. They said they're hoping that changes by next winter.

Willson said he has had longer rides with Uber clients, such as from Winter Park to Steamboat Springs and Winter Park to DIA.

When he did do a run to YVRA, Willson said, the fare was competitive with flat rates to the airport.

“The thing I was encouraged by was when I first started it was slow — one request a night,” Willson said. “When the word got out this winter … by the end of ski season I was getting three or four requests a night.”

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz

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