As of this weekend, we could finally have a solution to the issue of downtown transportation in Grand Forks. Lyft, a ride-sharing company, has officially begun operations in the city starting Feb. 23. I believe this is a net positive for the city, and I feel it is important to discuss both the history of the ride-share effort and what this means for the average student at UND.
This is the end of a two year process, initially started by Matt Kopp’s student government and city council to create a low-cost solution to the lack of public transportation across the city without increased government expenditures on services such as the CAT bus due to budget shortfalls and the general inconsistency of these services.
Initially, the city had attempted to court Uber, a service which functions similarly to Lyft, but they were told that due to an insufficient demand, Uber would not be coming to Grand Forks in 2016.
As a result, student government and community leaders launched a second campaign to bring ride-share to town, with surveys going out last semester via phone.
Finally, the community was heard; not by the company they wanted, Uber, but by the second largest ride-share provider Lyft.
This is a classic example of the power of determination. Political progress oftentimes takes years, but the mission has been accomplished. Ride-share companies are coming to UND, and with them a series of changes.
I’m sure students are wondering what this service will provide for them and what it means. In the first few weeks, very little will likely change, as the service relies on independent contractors.
Because they are new they do not have a physical fleet in the city, unlike a taxi company. It will likely take Lyft at least two to three weeks to process all their applications and ensure that their drivers are up to the state minimum standards before the fleet reaches a reasonable size, so I wouldn’t depend on the service until after Spring Break.
In the long term, however, this means students will no longer have to deal with the massive wait times of Grand Forks cab companies, which have been upwards of 30-45 minutes in my personal experience in non-peak hours, even longer during peak hours.
Instead, students will be able to open an app in their smartphone and track in real time how long it will take for the cab to arrive, typically 8 to 10 minutes according to various forums/marketing materials.
Furthermore, in theory, students will have a far cheaper experience through Lyft than they would otherwise through the taxi companies.
In short, Lyft offers a cheaper and more reliable service than the cab companies do, which should be applauded by students.
It should come as no surprise that I am cautiously optimistic about Lyft coming to town, but I have a few concerns people should know about beforehand.
First, I am skeptical that the number of drivers required to meet demand on busy nights will actually exist, and doubt that the 14,000 UND students, which is about a quarter of the population of the town, will be able to actually catch their taxis in a timely manner.
While another service cannot hurt in dealing with the surges, I am always a skeptic on silver bullet claims especially those that go against my intuition.
If I am wrong about the lack of drivers, and I hope I am, Lyft will be the perfect service for Grand Forks to adopt to address our transportation woes.
Dave Owen is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]