Uber drivers in Steamboat focus on ‘restaurant time’
Steamboat Springs — Semi-retired IT security consultant David Marchand aimed his trusty Subaru Outback west on U.S. Highway 40 the morning of Jan. 25 to meet some strangers at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden and deliver them to Steamboat.
“It’s a lot of fun really,” Marchand said. “You meet a lot of interesting people and have a lot of interesting conversations. I haven’t had a bad customer.”
Marchand is an Uber driver and embodies the answer to the question so many visitors to the Yampa Valley are seeking: “Is there Uber in Steamboat?” It’s one of the most popular searches on Steamboat Today’s website.
The answer is, “Yes.” Uber has been in Steamboat for about two years, but there are times when no available drivers will pop up on your phone app. And getting an Uber driver to meet you outside baggage claim at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, 22 miles west of Steamboat in Hayden, isn’t straightforward.
Marchand, who has been driving for Uber for almost exactly one year, explained, “The Uber app doesn’t connect from Steamboat to the airport, or from the airport to Steamboat. They have a zone that is pretty much the city limits, that we get calls from.”
So, how did Marchand know to pick up his passengers at the airport Tuesday morning?
“When I go to the airport, it’s usually a call from another driver, who doesn’t want to go out there, or a concierge will call me sometimes on my cell,” he said.
The relative handful of Uber drivers who collect passengers from the airport seem to fly under the radar. Yampa Valley Regional Airport Director Kevin Booth said a representative of Uber contacted him in 2016, and Booth informed them they are required to have a contract with the airport. But then, the individual drivers are not employees of Uber.
“I’m pretty sure they come and go occasionally,” Booth said, but the cost of trying to pin them down probably doesn’t justify it.
Marchand’s preference is to get a call to take departing airplane passengers to Hayden in late morning, then use flight tracker to confirm if arriving flights are still on schedule. Then he’ll wait and hope for a “ping” on his phone signaling that he has passengers for the return trip.
The fare is $35, and he will keep $26 and change.
Uber, the star of the ride-sharing economy, doesn’t appear to be transforming the way vacationers get around Steamboat Springs with the community’s free-to-rider bus system and fleets of condominium shuttle vans. Nor is its competitor, Lyft.
In response to a query, the company’s website responded, “Sorry. No info is available on Lyft prices in Steamboat Springs yet.”
At 11 a.m. on Jan. 25, there were two Uber drivers positioned in downtown Steamboat and available to accept passengers. But local Uber drivers tend to make themselves available at times of peak demand only.
“The reality is, you have to be there when the demand is high,” Marchand said. “It’s not cost effective to sit around for a couple of hours waiting for somebody to ping you. It’s been a learning process.”
Tim, an Uber driver who declined to give his last name, said evenings are the periods of highest demand here.
I work “restaurant time,” Tim said. “I feel bad for people getting DUIs.”
Uber drivers get to choose how often they work, and Marchand said he works until 2:30 or 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday to take advantage of prime time, then takes Sunday and Monday to recover.
The minimum charge for a ride in a four-passenger UberX vehicle, such as the Subaru Marchand drives, is $11.95, enough to take a passenger 5 miles, and Marchand said he keeps $7.50 of that.
“All the trips,” near the base of the ski area are about 10 minutes in length, Marchand said. “If you’re doing good, you can get in three an hour. There’s a misconception that it’s lucrative.”
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