Ways to bring ride-sharing back to Jefferson City.
For sci-fi lovers, space is known as the final frontier. For Jefferson City, some may argue that the final frontier is its ride-sharing services. It’s easy enough for people who live in cities to hail a ride, either from a taxi or a service like Uber or Lyft. There’s plenty of demand and drivers in bigger urban centers, but the same cannot be said of our town.
For David Rickard, who recently returned to his hometown after 15 years and works for Build Asset Management, getting rides in Jefferson City has always been difficult. David has also discussed this issue at length as a volunteer in the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce focus group on advocacy.
“My anecdotal experience has been that there are usually very few or no drivers available on the ride-sharing services,” David says. “My sense from talking to drivers is that not many people are using the apps, while the riders don’t use the apps because there aren’t many drivers. It’s a catch-22 situation where everyone’s individual motivations make sense, but the ultimate result is a lack of access to rides.”
Rickard’s sense of the problem was confirmed by Nathan Hays, former moonlighting ride-share driver.
“What I’ve seen happen in Jefferson City is a high supply of drivers in 2019 with an inconsistent or unsteady stream of riders,” Nathan says. “Now, and post-pandemic, there are very few drivers and still an inconsistent stream of riders.”
“Many drivers think of just driving at 12 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night. Not many people think about the train schedule, state worker schedules, older people, and those with disabilities.”NATHAN HAYS
In his experience, Hays saw an average of 20 to 30 trips on a typical Saturday night when there used to be drivers for 100 rides or more. This imbalance left many drivers resorting to other nearby markets with more rides, like the Lake of the Ozarks or Columbia.
So how do people get home safely from an outing with friends or a late night shift at work? JEFFTRAN, Jefferson City’s public transit system, runs Monday through Friday from 6:40 a.m. to 6 p.m., but it can’t account for those needing transit during the evenings or on the weekends.
In the past, many people would use the Safe Ride Home program. Started by local business owner Scot Drinkard, the Safe Ride Home program was a nonprofit organization that would offer a free ride home of up to $10 through the local cab company.
“I started the program to get customers home safe and in a timely manner,” Scot says. “Before I started the program, it would take over an hour to get a cab ride and most customers got impatient and would just drive home after drinking.”
Scot says that he felt like the program made people more conscious about drinking and driving and resulted in safer post-bar behavior. The program came to an end with the closure of Checker Cab, Jefferson City’s last cab company, this past year. The company’s closure ultimately came down to a business decision, as ride-sharing programs were expected to take over. However, this has left even fewer options to those seeking alternative forms of transportation around town.
The question remains: Is there any way out of our current transportation quagmire? While Scot doesn’t believe it is the responsibility of the local government to fix the issue, he noted that more awareness about the ride-sharing landscape couldn’t hurt — particularly when considering other investments in our community. A city effort to measure wait times and availability of different transportation services could help provide some context for what travelers experience when visiting or living in Jefferson City.
Having more drivers throughout the day could change the ride-sharing game, in Nathan Hays’ opinion.
“My anecdotal experience has been that there are usually very few or no drivers available on the ride-sharing services.”DAVID RICKARD
“Many drivers think of just driving at 12 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night,” he says. “Not many people think about the train schedule, state worker schedules, older people, and those with disabilities. Lack of drivers in the mornings and during the day moves people away from those platforms.”
As it stands now, whether you are a student at Lincoln University trying to work a nightly part-time job or a couple looking to enjoy a bottle of wine at Bar Vino and not have to worry about driving, you would be hard-pressed to find a ride home. To move is to thrive, and for Jefferson City to continue to flourish, we need to ensure everyone has an efficient and affordable way to get to work, school, health care, and recreation activities.
You can be part of that effort. Consider signing up and using a ride-sharing app. Perhaps you could become a driver. No matter what the future of ride-sharing may look like, there is still reason to believe that Jefferson City is more than equipped to support a ride-sharing economy.