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Lyft & Uber Fail The Rural Test

Lyft and Uber are happy to provide ride hailing services in densely populated areas but what about for people who live a few miles out of town? Suddenly, they are a lot less interested in servicing those customers.

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My wife and I travel frequently. We are blessed by dint of good fortune and hard work with two lovely homes — one in Rhode Island and one in Florida. We also are participants in the sharing economy and often exchange one or the other with other people.

Lyft Uber to airport

Next spring, for instance, we will be staying for 5 weeks at the home of some new internet friends who live north of Sydney, Australia. Later that year, those folks will stay at our home in Rhode Island while we decamp to Florida.

Home exchanges are great. They basically allow people to have extended vacations for very little money. Once you pay for the cost of getting there and back, your shelter costs are nil. You have to eat whether you are home or away, so that is a recurring expense no matter where you are.

We travel light. No steamer trunks and heavy suitcases. We take a backpack for necessaries and one small suitcase each. There are stores almost everywhere we go. If we need a few shirts or a pair of socks, we buy them when we get there. If we have to leave them behind, so be it. It’s a paltry expense compared to the value of exploring new places that we would never see otherwise.

The only hitch in our plans is getting to and from the airport. Our home in Rhode Island is 22 miles from the nearest airport. When we fly, we need to ask a neighbor to take us to the airport and bring us home when we return. We are often gone from 60 to 90 days, so leaving a car at the airport doesn’t make financial sense.

But as we travel more often, we sense our neighbors and friends becoming less interested in performing this chore. So when we came to Florida March 1, we contacted Uber and Lyft. “No cars available,” they both said. We wound up taking our car to the nearest Home Depot 8 miles away where we meet a Lyft driver. That worked out okay but we still had to ask a neighbor to go retrieve our car and take it home. Better than having them take us to the airport and navigate all the congestion in the area but still far from ideal.

I contacted Lyft support and exchanged a few e-mails with them. I even got a call from a polite and helpful person who explained that the company simply didn’t provide service to our area yet, that they were actively recruiting new drivers, and hoped to be expanding their service area soon.

Rhode Island is an odd place. (Some say the people who live there are odd as well.) Central Falls is the most densely populated city in America. But the state as a whole is one of the least densely states in the nation. Translation: most Rhode Islanders live close to the few large cities. The rest either have a car or rely on the occasional bus that connects the cities. My little hamlet of 5,000 souls just is not on the radar screen for either of the two major ride hailing companies. Pity.

I would not expect Lyft of Uber to send a car to a remote cabin in the Maine backwoods 100 miles from the nearest town, but c’mon guys. You can’t provide a ride to a busy airport from a house 22 miles away?

Lyft beat Uber to Wall Street this past week, raising nearly $25 billion from eager investors. Is it too much to ask that it provide service outside of densely populated urban areas? Is it satisfied to only pick the low hanging fruit?

I am ready, willing — anxious, really — to join the TaaS world. Money is not that big an issue. Long-term parking for 60 days at the airport would cost me more than $700. I would happily pay a fair amount for a Lyft or an Uber driver to take me to and from the airport instead. But I can’t. Not good enough, guys. Not good enough at all.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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