Turns out folks traveling around Santa Barbara do like summoning rides using smartphone apps and credit cards.
Santa Barbara’s tech-savvy population has seemingly embraced the taxi-on-demand nature of ride-sharing services such as Uber and LYFT, the latest company — recognizable by its pink mustache-wearing cars — to use cell phones and maps to connect riders with the closest drivers.
Passengers pay a flat or pre-determined rate, touted as cheaper than regular cabs, and can split the cost on multiple credit cards, the only form of payment accepted.
No running meters or tips are involved.
Uber launched locally in October and has grown so popular that this month the company added a fare to the Santa Ynez Valley, with plans to soon expand to Ventura and San Luis Obispo, said Andy Iro, a UC Santa Barbara graduate and local Uber manager.
Uber, which first launched in San Francisco in 2009, hires independent contractors to transport up to four passengers in the drivers’ own pre-inspected cars — an UberX or slightly more expensive black-car option.
LYFT operates in a similar way, except its prearranged-ride platform calculates fares based on a mix of time and distance.
A service of the still-young startup Zimride, LYFT arrived in Santa Barbara in late February, billing itself as a social “your friend with a car” experience, said Katie Dally, a company spokeswoman.
“In addition to the trademark pink mustache on the grilles of drivers’ cars, which acts as a great ice breaker during rides, Lyft passengers are invited to sit in the front seat, charge their phones, choose the music and connect with another member of the community while they travel around town,” Dally said.
LYFT serves streets in more than 30 cities nationwide, about the same number Uber boasted worldwide at the end of last year.
That number hits 100 this month, Iro said.
“The response to Uber in Santa Barbara has gotten global recognition, in terms of how well it’s doing,” he said. “I will say, ultimately, we are looking at expanding literally everywhere. We wouldn’t be doing that if there wasn’t enough demand.”
Sgt. Riley Harwood said all grievances must be filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the transportation network companies and requires that each obtain an operating permit — but not for individual drivers.
Traditional taxi company owners secure a business license from the city, and all drivers need costly permits and meters in their cars.
The state PUC has laid out special rules for the new cars, which include a no-hail policy that cabbies say is ignored.
Police have better things to do than to enforce the regulations, which is why new cars are breaking rules, said Sue Morris, operations director of Santa Barbara Yellow Cab.
She said those cars can charge more during peak times, and they don’t offer the same safety guaranteed by long-standing local operators.
“I’m all for free enterprise,” Morris said. “But why would anyone who works with a taxi company go through paying so much when they can just go out there and basically work for free?”
“I think LYFT is purely about this fun community-based experience,” Iro said. “We try to focus on the overall experience, meaning price and luxury. Even though Uber is cheaper, I think the cars are a lot nicer, and all drivers are encouraged to give their own feel.”
Dally noted that LYFT recently reduced its prices by up to 20 percent in all markets, including Santa Barbara.