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Jul 4, 2017 2:44 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Uber And Lyft Land In The Hamptons, Quietly

Jul 4, 2017 3:35 PM

Newly legalized ride-sharing services “arrived” on the South Fork this past week—but with more of a whisper than a roar.

Representatives of the two largest app-based ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, had said they each had “thousands” of drivers signed up on Long Island and would direct them toward the anticipated high demand in the Hamptons on the holiday weekend. But availability of the cars locally over the holiday weekend was scarce—and frustrating for those who opened the apps on their mobile phones in hopes of hailing a ride.

“It’s a little ridiculous,” said Brady Perrigo shortly after stepping off a Long Island Rail Road train in East Hampton on Monday, watching his phone screen. “It says 27 minutes for a pick-up.”

And yet Mr. Perrigo noted that the fare the Uber app offered him for the ride—he needed to go a mile or so to get to his summer share house—was under $10. When he leaned in the window of a taxi parked at the train station, a full five minutes after the train departed again, the driver told him the fare would be $25 to the same address.

“Obviously, they need more cars—just look at what’s going on,” Mr. Perrigo said, glancing to his left, where three other young people were also fixed on their phones, seemingly expectant that each one would suddenly tell them a car would be arriving momentarily.

Nicole Rizzo broke out her phone and opened the Uber app three times over the weekend, seeking rides from her summer house on the edge of East Hampton Village. Twice, she managed to hail a car; the third time, the app told her it would be at least 25 minutes before she could get picked up, so she called a cab instead.

On Tuesday morning, however, it took a driver just 13 minutes to get to her house for the one-mile ride to make the 11:45 train back to Manhattan. The fare was $9.

“I found it very convenient,” she said. “You just have to plan for the time a little more.”

On the other hand, throughout the weekend, the Uber app typically said rides would be 15 to 25 minutes before a pick-up would be possible. Rarely did more than one car appear as available anywhere in the region on the app’s map screen, and rarely for more than a minute before its cartoonish digital icon vanished from the screen as someone booked a ride—a sign of the simmering demand.

Indeed, for the drivers linked to the Uber app, business was fast and furious.

“I gave more than 50 rides in the last three days,” said one driver in East Hampton on Tuesday, who asked that he be identified only by the name the app gives a customer, Michael. He said he logged onto the Uber app about four hours a day on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. “The biggest complaint I heard is that taxicabs are ripping people off like crazy. So Uber should be an equalizer. It’s a far superior product at a fraction of the price.” He added: “If it works.”

Michael said he was disappointed by the net proceeds from his busy time of driving over the weekend—only about $25 an hour before subtracting for fuel and wear-and-tear on the car. The big shortcoming, he said, was that few Uber riders tip their drivers, since the company’s app does not have a post-ride prompt for leaving a tip on the same credit card the fare is charged to. He said that the company has claimed an update to the app that allows for tipping is forthcoming.

“Let me make the point: Please tip your Uber driver,” Michael said, noting he’d encountered only one other of the company’s drivers over the weekend. “I think more people will do it—it’s just new. But the only way it will last is if they make tipping part of it.”

Another driver hailed last week, Roberto, said he had started his first day working for the company in Lindenhurst and landed in East Hampton after picking up a ride at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. Once here, he said, he’d been unable to drive more than a mile or two without getting a request for another ride.

“I’ve been here all day,” he said. “I was actually going to try to head back west, but I keep getting rides, so I’ll stay a little longer. They need a lot of cars out here.”

The competition, at least at the outset, seemed unfazed by the “threat” of Uber and Lyft descending on the South Fork, largely because the new service’s presence was faint early on.

“They’re not out here—they’ve got, like, two drivers,” said Junior, a driver for Best Taxi who did not want to give his last name. He added with a mischievous chuckle, “I think Uber’s going out of business.”

To the contrary, a spokesperson for Uber said this week that the roll-out of its services statewide was a success.

“The East End is finally Uber’s home, and we couldn’t have imagined a warmer welcome,” Alix Anfang, Uber’s communications director for New York State, said in a prepared statement. “Riders were able to leave their personal cars at home, and drivers were able to earn money on their own time.”

She would not say, however, how many car owners from Southampton and East Hampton towns have signed up to work as drivers for the company, nor how many rides were actually hailed in the region through the Uber app. She said the company expects the number of cars available through the app to expand steadily over the summer.

In the first weekend, Uber was the only one of the companies that appeared to have any cars operating on the South Fork at all. The Lyft app, on several occasions, showed no vehicles west of Riverhead.

Lyft’s regional director for New York, Vipul Patel, said in an interview on Friday that the company would be making its presence known in the area.

“We have drivers who are signed up to be part of our Hamptons territory,” he said. “We expect to have a combination of drivers who live in the area and those who will travel there on the busy days.”

Unlike Uber, Lyft already has a tipping feature incorporated into its ride-hailing app. Mr. Patel said that Lyft’s treatment of drivers—for which Uber has been widely criticized—will help it grow its fleet. He said the company is holding driver-recruitment events throughout Long Island this summer.

Both companies also have features built into the app that track potential customers opening their phones to search for a ride, which then notifies drivers all over the region where hot spots of demand are and encourages them to go there with higher “surge” fares.

Ride sharing was allowed to spread statewide as of June 29, after the state adopted a package of laws in April that amended state regulations on insurance coverage provided to drivers by the companies. The state also blocked local municipalities from imposing their own requirements on drivers for ride sharing companies

Prior to the new laws, Uber was able to operate only in New York City, with drivers licensed by the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission, though its drivers routinely came to the South Fork on summer weekends to take advantage of high demand for rides. But those drivers often did not abide by the Uber business model and solicited customers in person rather than exclusively through the phone app—and clashed with local taxi drivers in doing so.

The state laws bar ride-sharing drivers from soliciting rides and from accepting cash payments.

In East Hampton Town, where lawmakers had effectively barred ride-sharing companies from operating the past two summers by requiring taxis to be registered in the town, the official response to the first week of the services being state-regulated was one of guarded relief.

Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said that there were no citations issued to any ride-sharing drivers for violating the terms of the state regulations, and no reports of conflicts between the part-time drivers and taxi companies.

Supervisor Larry Cantwell, whom Uber personally spotlighted in a public appeal for criticism of the town when it blocked out-of-town drivers, said that the first weekend of “local” Uber services went more smoothly than in previous years.

“We have not seen the overwhelming number of Uber drivers like we had three summers ago,” the supervisor said. “This weekend went well—but it’s a long summer. So far, so good.”

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When uber drivers need to have 50 trips at $7 per ride, they are not coming.....
That works in NYC but hamptons traffic and distance makes the whole process impossible. Once a uber driver does it once and goes home exhausted and broke, the game is over.
By Rayman (64), southampton on Jul 4, 17 4:02 PM
Then why was Uber bitching, moaning and threatening East Hampton officials when they weren't operating here? They set the fares, right?
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Jul 4, 17 5:38 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By ChrissyCappello, on Jul 7, 17 1:59 PM