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The uplyft: Ride-sharing app Lyft enters Dickinson

David Greenwood, DeAnna Keller, and Tim Frenz, left to right, are helping launch Lyft ride-sharing in Dickinson. (Grady McGregor / The Dickinson Press)

Finding a ride around Dickinson may soon be cheaper and more convenient than ever before. In the last few weeks, the global ride-sharing app Lyft opened up Dickinson and western North Dakota as eligible areas for Lyft drivers to provide taxi services.

Lyft, along with its main competitor Uber, already operates in larger cities in North Dakota like Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks, but this will be the first time that either of the major ride-sharing apps will offer services in the southwestern portion of the state.

Dickinson only had one Lyft driver working for the first few weeks of service, but that number has swelled to four in the last week.

One of the drivers, Tim Frenz, is a photographer who recently started moonlighting as a Lyft driver. To use Lyft, Dickinson residents need to download the Lyft app on a smartphone device, put their credit card information in it and start hailing cars when they need rides.

"It's similar to getting a cab. When you need a ride you just open the app," he said. "The map of Dickinson (on the Lyft app) will show you how many drivers are available, how far they are from you, what your ETA is to get to you."

Frenz and the other Dickinson Lyft drivers — David Greenwood, DeAnna Keller and Moustafa Osman — decided to start driving to supplement their primary incomes and because they could choose their own hours.

The four drivers first connected through the Dickinson Classifieds Facebook group and have been working as a team in the last few weeks to promote the app and coordinate schedules.

Greenwood said that while social media has been their primary tool to get people to start using Lyft—by posting several times on Dickinson Classifieds and their personal pages—they have also tried to get the word out in other ways like chatting with people at local bars.

Dickinson's new Lyft drivers believe the new service could play a role in making Dickinson a safer place.

"We are preventing accidents, DUIs, and saving people lots of money if they take advantage of it," Keller said.

But not everyone is convinced Lyft will be successful in Dickinson. Megan Patrick of Central States Dispatch, a company that operates taxis, limos and a competing ride-share service, doesn't believe large companies like Uber and Lyft compensate their drivers well enough to be sustainable in a small market like Dickinson.

Patrick said that while Lyft entering the Dickinson market may be "a good idea in theory," "the company's goal of profitability is overriding their ability to keep drivers satisfied."

She said Lyft and Uber take out large portions of each driver's fare and that within a few weeks drivers will realize that the toll driving for Lyft inflicts on their cars and the hours they put in will not match the profits they receive.

In response to Lyft and Uber's ride-sharing services, Patrick said she helped build what she calls a more equitable ride-share app that pays drivers fairer rates. Patrick said that CSD's Xtreme ride-share is up and running in Dickinson and that they are also welcoming drivers, provided they first pass background checks.

"We tried to change the outright 'rip you off' nature of rideshares," she said.

Ride-sharing regulations

In 2015, Republican state Rep. George Keiser, R-District 47, was the primary sponsor of a law — H.B. 1144 — that opened up and regulated ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to North Dakota.

Keiser said a provision in the law states that state law preempts local law in regards to ride-sharing, so the city of Dickinson will have little to no control in how Lyft operates.

"What the Ubers and Lyfts of the world didn't want was for the cities to have any control in this," he said. "They want to operate freely within the state and take away communities' right to impose more rigid standards."

Keiser said that in the 2015 bill he and his colleagues mainly wanted to ensure that ride-sharing contractors were aware of their insurance policies and that they would be covered in case of an accident. Keiser helped pressure Lyft and Uber into agreeing to cover up to $500,000 in accidents and requiring strict background checks for potential drivers.

Keiser said he is open to tweaking the law in the next legislative session to address any issues.

John Hageman of the Forum News Service reported in August that some legislators are considering increasing requirements for how ride-sharing apps report accidents to the state.

Keiser said he is also interested in California's recent decision to define ride-sharing drivers as employees and not independent contractors, entitling them to more worker benefits. He thinks this is an issue North Dakota can look into in the future.

Grady McGregor

Grady McGregor is a city and state politics reporter for The Dickinson Press. He joined The Press in July 2017.

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