Hailing a ride in Anchorage can be tough -- and that's especially true in places like Chugiak-Eagle River, where the utter scarcity of cabs led one area resident to describe the site of a taxi rolling down the road as "shocking."
The truth is that the taxi industry doesn't serve the residents of Chugiak-Eagle River well. Cab drivers have said as much: the money, they say, just isn't there. It's, as some in the industry have noted, "a losing venture" to operate a taxi in our area. Most taxis choose to stay in the Anchorage bowl, where they can rely on lucrative fares to the airport. We have a population of 35,000 and no reliable or convenient intra-community or inter-community transportation.
This situation serves taxis and taxi companies quite well. But it doesn't serve riders in Chugiak-Eagle River, where public transportation options and population growth make an already untenable situation worse. And it doesn't serve Anchorage small businesses, who are denied potential customers who can't find a reliable ride downtown.
In short, we're all paying the price for a lack of reliable transportation options in Anchorage. With the exception of a handful of medallion owners, the system we have is not serving people as well as it could. That's why we all have a stake in solving the problem. And innovative companies like Uber can be part of the solution.
For folks who aren't familiar, Uber is a technology that connects people in search of a safe, reliable ride with the nearest driver on the road. In just a few taps on an app, people can hail a ride from wherever they are to wherever they want to go. It's cash-free, it's hassle-free and it's already serving people in over 200 cities across the globe.
Uber brings efficiency to a market that is sorely lacking. Where demand exists for a ride, Uber can help find it and link nearby drivers to service that demand. The days of standing idly on the side of the road waiting endlessly for a cab can become a thing of the past with Uber. People looking for a ride can reliably find one whenever and wherever they want.
With more choice and competition also come more opportunities to start and grow a small business. Uber offers drivers the freedom and flexibility to partner with the platform, but only after passing a rigorous background check (folks with DUIs need not apply) and a 19-point vehicle inspection that ensures only the safest rides are on the road.
Uber means more choice, more competition and more economic opportunity in Anchorage. It also meets a long-neglected need of folks in places like Chugiak-Eagle River for safe, reliable and affordable transportation options. It's a win for riders, a win for drivers and a win for the Anchorage economy -- a highly unusual win-win-win.
Rather than trying to pump the brakes on Uber, as some have attempted to do, we should recognize all the good it has to offer and welcome the opportunity to have a pilot program for Uber in our community with open arms. I, for one, know folks in Chugiak-Eagle River have a great deal to win with Uber -- and perhaps more to lose if things stay the same.
Susan Gorski is the executive director of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.