Sometimes decisions made by our public officials amaze us.
And not always in a good way.
Why does it have to be so difficult to get a Transportation Network Company to serve all of the Tri-Cities?
For those of you not familiar with the terminology, TNCs are companies like Uber and Lyft, app-based ride services popular throughout the United States and in major cities around the world.
And while 530 other cities have found a way to work with TNCs, our community continues to struggle.
Kennewick balked at first but then struck a compromise on its requirements for drivers that the city and Uber could work with. Other cities said they were watching Kennewick and would follow suit. But so far, Kennewick is the only city here where you can hail a ride from Uber. You can get a ride from Kennewick to other cities, but not vice versa. That can make logistics challenging if you don’t have a car or can’t drive.
Uber carries some of the blame. Richland signed off on the Uber-friendly rules before Christmas and is just now applying for a business license there.
Things on Uber’s end have gone quiet. The Uber staff member who had helped pave the way for Uber in Kennewick and other Eastern Washington cities has left the company. And Uber isn’t talking about what it plans to do with the roadblocks thrown up by two of our cities, Pasco and West Richland.
Pasco appeared poised to approve TNCs with an amended city code but then backtracked, saying it would require drivers to be fingerprinted. For Uber, that requirement has been a deal-killer in other markets. So if you are flying into the airport, you won’t be getting a ride on Uber or other TNCs — which are letting Uber fight the fight in Tri-Cities before they will follow into seemingly unfriendly territory.
West Richland also decided not to adopt a model like Kennewick’s, instead asking its finance committee for a review and recommendations at some future date. Some city officials say they believe all that should be required is a business license and the onus of screening drivers should be left to the TNCs. But the full council will have to make that decision.
In the meantime, we have a patchwork system at best. Uber will take you from Kennewick to any Tri-City destination. But you’re out of luck if you want to start a ride in Pasco, West Richland or Richland at this time.
You see, we want Uber more than Uber needs us. If things are made too difficult, Uber will pass and move on. That’s happened in other communities. But usually the demand becomes so great that Uber usually prevails. Think Las Vegas. The service started and closed quickly a few years ago when taxi drivers pushed back. But the TNCs prevailed and now Uber, Lyft and others are commonplace.
If you don’t understand what all the fuss is about, you should try using Uber or another service when you travel next time. The service is convenient, the vehicles are clean and the drivers are usually courteous. You simply set up an account and then pull up the app on your phone and confirm where you want to go. You get a quoted price and, if you accept, you get an alert with your driver’s name and license plate number and rating by riders. No fuss, no money exchanged, no hassle.
If you don’t think people here want Uber, simply look at last Saturday night. The demand after a beer and bacon festival at the Three Rivers Convention center sent Uber into surge pricing. That means the demand was so high the price escalated. Supply and demand. It’s a simple equation.
People were making a choice to get a ride home from Uber, rather than driving. And isn’t that just the kind of service we want in our community? Our cities need to all get onboard with Uber and other TNCs before the services give up on the Tri-Cities. Uber needs to do its part and apply for business licenses where it hasn’t. Our community will be the better for it.