Madisonians who’d rather hail a ride instead of drive in capital-city traffic have ride-booking options at their fingertips.
App-based services such as Uber and Lyft got the green light to operate in Madison in 2015 and have been catching on to the point where traditional taxi services locally have launched their own apps for riders.
The allure of Uber and Lyft is that they offer cheap rides with the tap of a smartphone. The drivers use their own vehicles and keep a cut of the ride cost.
Scott Resnick, StartingBlock executive director and a former city alderman who pushed for stricter ride-hailing regulations as an elected official, doesn’t own a car and says he uses Uber several times a week.
“At this point, I can get an Uber ride at almost any time on any day,” which indicates a greater number of drivers, he says.
A 2015 Pew Research Institute study found about 28 percent of those ages 18-29 have used a ride-hailing app, and one in five U.S. urban dwellers have used such apps. College graduates or those whose household incomes exceed $75,000 are more likely to be users than other demographic groups.
A ride from the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus to Dane County Regional Airport on average costs about $15 using Uber, compared to about $40 by taxi, according to the price-comparing site uphail.com. But that Uber price could jump to more than $50 during peak times.
Gary Goyke, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of Taxicab Owners, says the growing use of ride-booking services has hurt the taxi business. “There’s definitely been an impact,” he says.
According to city data, Madison’s four traditional taxi services—Badger Cab, Green Cab, Madison Taxi and Union Cab—have fluctuated in combined revenue, with totals of $16.1 million in 2011 and $15.4 million in 2015. Ridership was down for Green and Union cabs in 2016 from the previous year.
Wisconsin law requires ride-hailing services to carry a $5,000 state license and at least $1 million in commercial insurance per driver and exempts them from municipal regulations. Goyke and others are lobbying for stricter state rules.
Josh Massey, a University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate, in November launched Alfred, a hybrid ride-booking company that’s like a limousine service and a personal concierge. Alfred hires professional drivers and has a fleet of Mercedes-Benz sedans, although drivers can also use their own vehicles.
Why did you choose to pursue a ride-sharing startup?
I was a ride-sharing software consultant in Chicago and an early adopter of Uber. I realized there’s not a lot of options out there for safety and security, for both drivers and users. I was concerned drivers aren’t making money during drop rate times, and still have to buy their cars and pay for maintenance. At the same time, riders can never be sure the quality of vehicle they will get.
Why start in Madison?
I came back here to help with a summer internship and saw the Madison tech industry is on the rise. I read the Wisconsin bill [which exempted ride-booking services from municipal taxi regulations] and thought this was a great opportunity to create a new service.
What is the future of ride-booking services?
It’s only going to grow. We’re looking to provide special packages for tourists and services for business travelers who want a high-quality ride.
Patti Zarling is a writer based in Green Bay.