Uber, the ride-sharing company that thousands of Southern Nevada consumers have been clamoring for — and will likely result in thousands of headaches for transportation regulators and taxi company executives — is nearing its Las Vegas launch.
Representatives of the company met with the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board on Wednesday to explain details of its service. The company hasn’t disclosed when it would launch or what its fares would be. Normally, the company’s rates are 10 percent to 20 percent below a market’s standard taxi rates.
Justin Kintz, Uber’s head of public policy, said in the past 45 days, 50,000 people have opened the Uber app on their smartphones in Southern Nevada, an indication, he said, that the market is prime for the company that refers to itself as a technology company and not a transportation operation.
That differentiation is what is confounding the Nevada Transportation Authority and the Nevada Taxicab Authority, which have regulations in place that prohibit an individual from operating ground transportation without a certificate of public convenience and necessity.
Uber says it merely connects someone who needs a ride with someone who drives a car and has been vetted by the company to have insurance and a clean law-enforcement record.
But a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Business and Industry, which oversees the Transportation and Taxicab authorities, said drivers contracted by Uber would be treated like any other unlicensed transportation driver — with a citation and an impound order that would cost up to $10,000 per incident to resolve.
Kintz and Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend said the company is working to educate lawmakers and policymakers about the company’s business model but wouldn’t divulge the names of people contacted.
The Uber representatives also wouldn’t say how many drivers it would contract with in Southern Nevada, saying it would base the number on supply and demand. They acknowledged that most of their drivers nationwide work part time or use their Uber earnings as supplemental income.
Uber’s business model also uses dynamic supply-and-demand pricing, which means standard rates may not be in place during busy periods such as after casino shows, before and after large special events and before and after trade shows. But the Uber app warns customers when dynamic pricing is in effect and users can request a text message when regular pricing returns.
That type of pricing flies in the face of taxi regulations that require cabs to collect fares with meters that measure distance and wait time. The Taxicab Authority earlier this week approved an 8 percent rate increase expected to take effect in the next few weeks.
Other details from Uber’s meeting with the Review-Journal:
■ The company’s app can “black out” certain pickup zones. The company has been meeting with resort companies to determine the best way to provide pick-up points that are convenient to customers. But the technology will be able to head off attempts to stop in the middle of traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard for a pickup.
■ In busy New York, Uber strives for its drivers to pick up passengers within five minutes of requesting a ride. The company will try to meet that same standard here.
■ Uber recently was approved to serve San Francisco International Airport and the company has worked with airports worldwide to establish ride-share zones so that passengers aren’t in taxi line queues.
■ Behrend said the typical Uber customer isn’t just a millennial. She said customers nationwide include senior citizens needing a ride to the doctor’s office or a pharmacy and people who have had too much to drink and need a ride home.
■ Uber uses third-party investigators to conduct background checks on its drivers, updating information annually.
■ Drivers contracted to use Uber’s platform get 80 percent of the fares, which are paid electronically through the app. Drivers carry no cash. The remaining 20 percent goes to Uber per the company’s licensing agreement with the driver.