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Richard N. Velotta
 

Uber begins picking up, dropping off passengers at McCarran

9 December 2015

Ride-hailing company Uber on Tuesday began operations at McCarran International Airport, ending a stalemate with Clark County that lasted more than a month.

Uber, the larger of two transportation network companies licensed by the state, indicated that it would comply with county information requests, but it was unclear whether that meant it would provide a list of drivers to McCarran, a sticking point that kept it from operating legally there.

"We are willing to work with the airport to provide information they need for purposes of airport safety," Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson said early Tuesday just after the company began operating at the airport at 6 a.m.

Hours after Uber began airport rides, the company announced a move that riled contracted drivers but pleased consumers — a 30% fare decrease for its basic UberX service.

Effective Tuesday, the company charges a base fare of $2, down from $2.40, $1.10 a mile, down from $1.85, 20 cents a minute, down from 30 cents a minute, a $1.70 "safe rides fee," up from $1. The minimum fare and cancellation fee remain at $5.

While some drivers grumbled that the rate decline would affect their earnings, Uber explained in messages to those drivers that the lower pricing would encourage more rides and that the volume would expand earnings beyond current levels.

Ride-hailing companies have the advantage of being able change rates on the fly, something not easily duplicated by taxicab companies operating on meters.

Travelers using the ridesharing app were mostly unaware of the company's troubles with the county, but they noticed Uber drivers were having difficulty finding a small pickup area in the Terminal 1 parking garage.

"They don't know where they're going," Phoenix resident Alex Glueckler said.

Glueckler, 31, came to Las Vegas on business. He said he uses Uber everywhere he goes and had a negative opinion of the valley's taxi companies. In past visits, taxis have refused to give him a ride because he was in a neighborhood they didn't like or he wasn't going far enough.

"It's the first day, so everybody is trying to figure out where they're going," Glueckler said as he waited patiently. "At least they (Uber) actually pick you up."

The Review-Journal learned of plans for the start-up late Monday after county offices had closed. Uber officials said they did not immediately publicize the start-up, fearing contracted drivers would attempt to get rides before they were permitted to start.

On Tuesday morning, the company communicated with drivers that it was allowed to pick up and drop off at the airport. County airport officers had issued about 1,600 citations to Uber drivers illegally operating at the airport since August.

"Thanks to the Clark County Department of Aviation, travelers now have the choice of requesting a safe, reliable and affordable Uber ride from McCarran International Airport," Uber Nevada general manager Jason Radisson said in a statement issued early Tuesday. "We are thrilled to add Las Vegas to the growing list of airports that have embraced ridesharing services like UberX and UberXL."

Denver resident Danny Newman, 35, didn't have any trouble finding the pickup area — he just followed the signs — but Francis Cordova, 27, of Chicago, got lost.

A first-time user, Cordova said she thought it would be less time-consuming than getting a cab or renting a car.

"I think it's cheaper than a taxi," she added.

The path to legal operations wasn't an easy one for Uber.

The company appealed to state officials for an interpretation of state law after the Clark County Commission unanimously approved an ordinance requiring the company to provide names or identification numbers of drivers to make sure they had paid their $25 annual county business license fees.

The commission backed down and revised the ordinance, but Uber still feared that McCarran, as a county-run airport, would turn the names of drivers over to the business licensing department.

Uber's smaller rival, Lyft, complied with county directives in October after the ordinance was first approved and began serving McCarran then.

Uber customers will get instructions on their apps when they hail a ride from the airport. When requesting a ride to the airport, customers have been asked to tell the driver which airline they're flying to be dropped off at the airport departures curb.