On Nantucket Uber Brings More Choice and Difficult Decisions

Jul 20, 2016

This Memorial Day marks a year since Uber launched on the Cape and the Islands. Since then, the company says it provided tens of thousands of rides, but that they couldn't quite keep up with the high seasonal demand. 

Meanwhile, taxi drivers across the country are struggling to compete with rideshare services like Uber. It remains to be seen how Uber succeeds on Nantucket and rest of the Cape—and how the island's transportation industry might change.

 

Colbert Worrell drove an Uber on Nantucket all last year. “It's been good so far,” he said. “I've been a cab driver over 10 years now. I just decided to give it a try, to see what it's like. I like it. It's nice. It's good that it's here. The island needs a little bit of competition.”

 

Worrell says that on peak days in July and August, he can make up to $100 an hour. Other drivers cited lower numbers for busy spring weekends, somewhere between $17 to $25 dollars an hour. Worrell says it's comparable to what he'd make as a taxi driver. “It's neck and neck,” he says. “But at the end of the day, you're on your time. You go on when you want, come off when you want... which works if you're a family man.”

 

A recent Uber recruitment event on Nantucket is part of the company's push to get more drivers on the road on the Cape and Islands. That's because it was sometimes hard for local users to get a ride last year. Chris Taylor, the general manager of Uber Boston, explains, “When Uber launches a new market, very often demand slowly grows with supply. And we build the marketplace in a really nice and smooth fashion. What's interesting about the Cape and Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard are that most of the people who are there seasonally, for vacation and things like that, are coming from markets where Uber has existed for a long time. So when we turned it on, we found that the demand just shot through the roof.”

 

The recruitment event lasted three hours, and about a dozen people dropped in. But many of them didn't want to talk on the record. Mostly that was because they didn't want to get involved in any conflict between Uber and taxis. After repeated requests for an interview, the Nantucket Taxi Owners Association released a written statement: “Our feeling on Uber is that if the town is going to allow them to operate on island they should be required to have similar regulations. The town should also require all transportation services to be fingerprinted for safety and not just town-licensed vehicles.”

 

The taxi industry does have a lot of regulations. For one thing, there's a long waiting list to get a license on Nantucket. It's over one hundred names long, and some people have been waiting for years. Meanwhile, an Uber driver doesn't need to wait at all. And some municipalities have passed rules for ridesharing companies. For example, Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard requires Uber drivers to register just like taxi drivers do. But so far, only one driver has done so. Meanwhile, Nantucket's town government has no immediate plans to regulate Uber. That's partly because they're waiting for the state to act. And Uber is too.

“Our focus right now is on the statewide bill that's in process," said Uber Boston general manager Chris Taylor. "If and when that passes, that would be potentially a statewide set of rules that would govern how the system functions.”

 

And while the State Senate is reviewing H. 4049, a potential regulatory bill, Uber is ramping up their drivers and features. That includes UberPool, which allows users to carpool to shared destinations. The company is also partnering with the train line Cape Flyer and with Blade, a private flight-sharing service. All this right after the Nantucket Taxi Owners Association successfully lobbied for the first rate increase in eight years.

 

Some islanders already love using Uber. Greg McKechnie is one of them. He's lived on Nantucket for twenty years, and he started using Uber on island around its launch last May.  “I live on a dirt road, and there's no dirt road surcharge with Uber. So it actually comes out to be a little less. The Uber drivers get rated at the end of their ride. So if it's not a good experience, they're going to get a low rating. I'm sorry for my taxi-driving friends and owners of cab companies. I think Uber is going take hold. They do a good job. The service is there. I think the cab companies could also come up with a little more efficient systems. Try and expedite. Competition raises the bar.”

 

If McKechnie's prediction comes to fruition, there could be changes in store for the island's year-round transportation options. But in the meantime, taxis and Uber drivers alike are getting out on the road for the busy summer season.

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