Uber expands mountain efforts, eyes Aspen next | AspenTimes.com

Uber expands mountain efforts, eyes Aspen next

Chef Jason Robnett ditched a flight for a job interview to become an Uber driver in Aspen — that's how much he believes in the service and its potential success here.

Until two weeks ago, Robnett had never heard of the ride-sharing service and mobile app.

Robnett was at Denver International Airport, planning to fly into Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to interview for a chef's position at an Aspen restaurant whose headquarters are in Miami.

Prior to boarding the red-eye, Robnett was telling a friend how he'd have to commute from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami upon his arrival, to which the friend suggested he take an Uber.

Standing in line at his gate, Robnett Googled "Uber" and quickly decided this was the job for him — not the one he was about to fly across the country to interview for. He said he skipped the flight as a result.

Fortunate for Robnett, Uber is working to bring its services to Colorado's mountain towns, including Aspen.

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The company recently launched a campaign to bring the ride-sharing service into to the mountains, according to Uber spokesperson Jamie Moore. The campaign's real push was last week, with two recruiting events in Frisco and Avon.

Uber hopes to recruit 100 active drivers in the area by the end of the month, Moore said, adding that Uber is looking to enter markets in Colorado mountain counties along the Interstate 70 corridor as well as Aspen.

"Aspen is the premier ski resort in North America, if not the world," Moore said. "If we can partner alongside the city to foster the growth and success of ride-sharing in a market this size, it can be used as a case study for bringing these options to more mountain communities across the nation."

While Colorado's Senate Bill 125 passed in 2014 provides the legal framework for Uber to operate statewide — the bill includes requirements for driver background checks, safety inspections and insurance, among other regulations — it also must file for a local business license in order to operate in Aspen. Uber has not done that yet, according to Aspen Community Relations Director Mitzi Rapkin.

"An Uber driver would just need to get a business license to operate here. If they don't have one, we kindly ask them to get one," Rapkin said, adding that it is not a difficult process.

It is, however, a violation of city code to operate without a business license, which does make the service illegal, she said.

Despite some talk of pushback, Rapkin said the city has never discussed having Uber in Aspen.

"We have nothing to do with regulating taxis. We just require businesses that are operating in Aspen to have a license," Rapkin said. "And if it gets people out of their cars, that's great. The city is all about reducing traffic."

There's still a lot of gray area surrounding Uber's presence in Aspen, like whether any Uber drivers have been in town in the past.

Moore said there are currently 10 active Uber drivers registered to work in Aspen. She said the first driver registered in Aspen in July of 2013. Robnett said he was told by three Uber executives at the company's recruiting event in Avon on Friday that he is the first and only driver in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, however.

One detail that is more concrete is that Uber's rates are typically far less expensive than traditional taxi services.

According to a dispatcher contacted Tuesday by The Aspen Times, High Mountain Taxi charges $6.89 for its first mile and approximately $3.64 for each mile after, depending where the customer is traveling to and from.

Uber X, which is the most affordable of Uber's five "tiers" of service, has a $4.95 minimum fare and a $1 base fare. After that, Uber charges a fare of 16 cents per minute, and $1.10 per mile, although fares can increase during peak travel times.

So about what does this add up to for a trip locally?

Robnett calculated that a trip from Aspen to Woody Creek Tavern, for example, would cost somewhere between $13 and $17.

High Mountain Taxi estimated that a trip of this duration would cost between $40 and $45.

erobbie@aspentimes.com

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