Taxis have never been a mode of transportation I’ve used — hard to hail, price yet to be determined and would I even have enough cash to cover the ride?
While transit is my preferred mode of leisure travel, it isn’t always convenient, especially late at night. Nor is it an option for many people who live far from transit corridors or who have mobility issues. Ride-hailing services can fill these gaps.
Uber and Lyft offer the same on-demand ride without all the unknowns of a taxi. All from a smartphone app, I can see how far away a car is, the estimated cost to my destination and no need to worry what’s in my wallet.
The apps have users choose pickup and dropoff locations. Once that is submitted, potential riders are given an estimated wait time and price. And one also can see how many vehicles are roaming around nearby.
While the two major ride-hailing companies, Lyft and Uber, list parts or all of the Snohomish County in their service areas, it doesn’t mean a ride can be hailed from just anywhere. (Lyft’s coverage doesn’t include Stanwood and north, or towns along highways 92 or 530. All of Snohomish County falls under Uber’s service area.)
In a county with over 2,000 square miles, these ride-hailing services aren’t always readily available in some of the smaller, less-dense areas. Drivers choose when and where they want to work — although they seem to have fewer choices on where they drop off riders.
Uber claims to serve the entire county. But I was unable to find a driver roaming around Darrington during periodic checks last week.
Both companies say their territory stretches east along U.S. 2 all the way to Index. But, again, I could find no vehicles close by to transport a rider to Paine Field from the Cascade Range foothills, according to the apps. The closest at one point was a single car in Monroe. That driver might have been willing to take the estimated $82 to $100 fare, according to the Uber and Lyft apps. But there are no guarantees they will accept every request, and the estimated arrival time to the airport was over 2 hours.
Both Uber and Lyft didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
Lyft says drivers operate as far north as Arlington, with Granite Falls as the cut-off to the east. On Tuesday afternoon, two drivers were hanging out around Smokey Point looking for fares.
Uber also had cars in that area and the app even estimated a 12-minute wait time for a pickup near Oso. But no cars were available in Darrington.
Cars seem to be consistently circling in Everett, near the Tulalip Resort Casino and in south county — Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Bothell and Mill Creek — even late into the evening. Drivers are also easy to find at Paine Field and a few can be found in Lake Stevens and the city of Snohomish.
On a recent visit to the new passenger terminal, Ubers and Lyfts were dropping off and picking up passengers at the airport.
For Uber driver Eshete Getnet, Paine Field isn’t a hot spot.
“There’s not a lot of flights,” the Lynnwood resident said. “I mostly work in downtown Seattle.”
Gay Newton, on the way to visit her granddaughter in California, arrived at the airport by Uber after waiting less than 10 minutes for the ride from her house in Mountlake Terrace.
She said she has been using the service for about four years.
“I really like Ubering to downtown Seattle,” Newton said. “It’s much easier.”
Another driver working for Lyft dropped a passenger at the airport, but wasn’t hopeful she’d be able to pick up anyone else there. Her prediction came true and she left after about 10 minutes. She said she mostly works in Bothell’s Canyon Park area.
Boiled down, it seems drivers congregate in the southern, more dense parts of the county, as well as Everett and the Tulalip casinos.
In some of the smaller towns, ride-hails have yet to become as ubiquitous as taxis.
Stanwood and Camano Island have not become a hot market for ride-hailing, said Jennifer Ferguson, city administrator for Stanwood.
“What is unique about us is that Island Transit operates routes, obviously on the island, but routes around Stanwood for no cost,” she said in an email. “This is a valuable service to our area. One can get around pretty easy with this service.”
Everett, Lake Stevens and Marysville are among the few, if not the only, cities that regulate ride-hailing services here. Similar to other companies that operate in Everett, drivers need to pay a business license fee that has to be renewed annually. The rate ranges up to $83 depending on the driver’s income and city of residence. There are 78 licenses issued to drivers, 44 for Lyft and 34 for Uber, according to the mayor’s office. The companies must obtain a for-hire license to operate there.
Marysville estimated that about 10 drivers have obtained licenses, and Lake Stevens says 17 drivers have permits.
Bothell, Edmonds, Granite Falls, Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Monroe, Mountlake Terrace and Mukilteo have no regulations regarding ride-hailing.
Arlington, Snohomish and Sultan didn’t provide that information in response to inquiries from the newspaper.
“Drivers are not listed in our city code as a type of business that would need a business license. Further, it would be very challenging to enforce,” said Joni Kirk, a spokesperson for Mill Creek, in an email.
She compared it to trying to enforce policies regarding short-term rentals such as Airbnb, the ride-hailing equivalent to a hotel.
“We do have taxicab regulations that were written in 1946, so these sections of code are outdated,” said Deborah Knight, Monroe city administrator, in an email.
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