Peer-to-peer services aren’t all that new on the central Peninsula. Air BnB has been around for years. And buying and ordering personal services via the internet is only growing. Case in point, you can get an Uber now.
Keith Baxter of Soldotna is one of just a small handful of Uber drivers available occasionally around the central Peninsula. He’s only been at it a couple weeks, and given just a few rides, but he says he’s been curious about how it might work in a more rural area since the state legislature signed off on a bill allowing for ride-hailing services earlier this year. Actually, Uber made its debut in Alaska in 2014, but was quickly shut down over disagreements with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
“So when I was following the legislation in Alaska regarding Uber here, I was kind of curious. Is that just going to be for the bigger cities or is it going to operate in rural areas, as well? There was only one way to find out, after the Legislature did their thing and it became legal.”
Transportation choices on the Kenai aren’t exactly plentiful, but there are options. CARTS is a nonprofit agency that provides services mainly to seniors on a budget, and, of course, you can get a cab any time. I talked to Brent Hibbert at Alaska Cab, who says he was a little disappointed at the Legislature’s decision to not allow for more local control regarding services like Uber and Lyft. He says regulations are different for cab companies even though they’re providing essentially the same service.
“The municipalities of Kenai and Soldotna have no say over what Uber can do. I’m controlled. I have to have permits and have to have commercial insurance. I pay borough taxes. Twenty-five percent of an Uber fare goes straight to California," Hibbert says.
In other areas, big cities like San Francisco or Seattle, the Uber game is a little different than it is here, at least so far. Shortly after noon, I opened my Uber app to see about a ride to airport in Kenai. No drivers were available. It’s not the cut-throat industry you often read about in other places. And Keith Baxter doesn’t see himself as major competition to the cabs, either.
“I’m pretty realistic that it’s not a big money-maker. The cash isn’t really there, it doesn’t seem like. Maybe in a bigger market where they’re busy all the time and they’re steadily getting tips. But in my experience, I’ve been available to give Uber rides more than people have been requesting them around here. Just because you’re available doesn’t mean somebody’s going to want a ride," Baxter says.
Chock that one up to good old Alaskan self-reliance. Or, at least a portion of it. The cab companies are busy, sure, and Uber is getting started, but in a place where everything’s so spread out, people haven’t come to depend on publicly available transportation. Hibbert agrees. They’ve had an app similar to Uber’s for about a year, but it hasn’t changed much about how his customers do business. They still call the dispatcher to get a cab ride. Baxter says he’s not out to change it, either.
“Me deciding I want to meet new people by doing ride-sharing from time to time is a whole different category of someone who wants to make the investment of time and energy and commitment to become a cab driver or to start a transportation business. And that’s one of things (about) peer-to-peer services, people don’t know how to think about it. It doesn’t have to be a career.”
Apps for both Uber and Alaska Cab are available on iTunes and Google Play.