Sharing the Ride-Share Market: How Uber is Preparing for Lyft Coming to New Hampshire

In general, Uber says it thinks competition is good because it gives people more choices and forces everyone to be better.

by Michael Cousineau, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester / March 6, 2017
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

(TNS) -- The ride-sharing service Lyft recently rode into New Hampshire to challenge Uber's two-year head start, while Uber is thinking about launching service to some New Hampshire ski resorts next winter.

Lyft launched in late January and operates in Concord, Derry, Nashua and Manchester.

Uber, meanwhile, uses several hundred drivers to serve its nearly 40,000 active riders in New Hampshire.

Its most reliable market is roughly Manchester to Nashua east to Portsmouth and Durham, according to Cathy Zhou, Uber's general manager for New Hampshire.

"We're very focused on growing and we've seen tremendous growth in New Hampshire," Zhou said during an interview at the New Hampshire Union Leader.

"In general we think that competition is good because it gives people more choices, and it also frankly forces us all to be better because it forces us to be more innovative ... and ensure that we are delivering just the best possible experience both for the riders and the drivers," Zhou said.

Lyft's Scott Coriell said the company doesn't disclose driver numbers in specific markets but now operates in nearly 300 cities, serving more than 70 percent of the nation. Lyft has added at least 90 cities just this year.

"We're excited to be able to help expand economic opportunities for Granite Staters and bring a safe, affordable and convenient transportation option to the state," Coriell said.

Uber's average arrival time in New Hampshire is between five and seven minutes, with business concentrated on weekends, Zhou said.

"One of our focuses is thinking about the seasonality of our markets, particularly in New England, where people tend to flock to the beaches in the summer and head to the ski slopes in the winter," Zhou said.

Uber, for instance, gave out free tote bags during a summer promotion and recently started service at Killington and Stowe ski resorts in Vermont.

Thanks to its technology, Uber can gauge potential markets by tracking unserved areas where app users are trying unsuccessfully to get rides. "We have a sense of where are some areas where there might be demand," Zhou said. "Is this a place where there is this product market fit?"

Ride sharing at the slopes

Jessyca Keeler, executive director at Ski New Hampshire, which represents 34 alpine and cross-country resorts, thinks Uber could be a good fit.

"When it comes to looking at ways to make it easier for skiers and would-be skiers to get to the slopes, I think ski areas are open to any reasonable transportation options," she said. "Ski New Hampshire and some of its member resorts have worked with a bus rideshare app called Skedaddle that can help transport people from the cities as well, and I believe it's been quite successful.

"As we hear more about millenials living in the cities opting not to have a car, we need to be figuring out what we can do to facilitate getting them out of the city and to the mountains, be that through ride-sharing services or other transportation means," she said.

Michael Joseph, public relations manager at Killington Resort, said it was too soon to gauge ridership numbers.

"I think more (transportation) options always help, and from drivers I've chatted with, they're getting good business between Rutland and Killington, which is super helpful since they have Amtrak and an airport there," Joseph said in an email. "Uber is a natural fit for our guests, who hail predominately from Boston and NYC areas where Uber use is widespread."

'Dynamic' pricing

With Uber's "dynamic pricing" model, people looking for a ride during a snowstorm may find higher fares.

"Riders can see ... upfront what the fare will be in those instances," Zhou said, "and sometimes it may be a little bit higher during snowstorms because there are fewer drivers. And part of the reason that we do (dynamic pricing) is there is more incentive for drivers to come on the road."

Uber is currently testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh and in Arizona.

"It's definitely an area that we think we need to be a part of," Zhou said. "As I always say, I think we learned from our own experience of what happens if you're sort of an incumbent and you let the disrupters come in, so we want to make sure we are a part of that technology."

She thinks that technology will help reduce car ownership and relieve traffic congestion and parking hassles.

"An autonomous vehicle may come and take you into your work and then it may go and pick someone else up from there and take them to the grocery store, so everyone is kind of sharing these resources, and I think for us, that's what were really excited about," she said.

"In New Hampshire, it might not be every single car off the road," Zhou said. "Maybe, it's removing or replacing one of your cars, and there might still be a need for an individual vehicle. That's a pretty exciting vision."

And for those doubters out there?

"Five years ago, it was hard for most people to envision a ride-sharing network where people would be able to be using their personal vehicles and sharing rides in this way, so I'm pretty optimistic about that and bullish on that front," Zhou said.

Regulations

Zhou said a New Hampshire law enacted last year to provide consistent rules for licensing and insuring drivers for ride-share companies has made it easier for Uber to operate as opposed to trying to meet varying rules in different communities.

She said its drivers undergo background checks done by a third party checking various databases.

"The purpose of these screenings is to identify offenses and other information that may disqualify potential drivers from using Uber," according to an Uber document.

"Our disqualification criteria may vary by jurisdiction according to local laws and includes major and minor driving violations such as DUI and speeding, as well as convictions for violent, sexual and driving-related crimes."

Uber has garnered unflattering headlines recently, including one about a former software developer at Uber alleging on her blog that her manager at the company propositioned her for sex and that the human resources department tried to protect him after she complained, according to Bloomberg.

One female New England Uber executive told the Union Leader she was disturbed and saddened by the blog post alleging sexual harassment at Uber, but that she had not personally been the subject of sexual harassment at Uber. She recognized that sexism and sexual harassment is an issue in workplaces in general and those issues need to be addressed.

©2017 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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