No cab coming? Call your lawmaker for a ride

Sen. Mia Costello

Alaskans Renee Limoge and Rebecca Logan were sitting in Salt, a downtown Juneau restaurant popular for its small plates and generous pours. The two were biding their time while waiting for a cab to the airport. And waiting. And waiting.

While the cab didn’t show up, their state senator did stop in. Sen. Mia Costello noticed the two travelers fidgeting and looking at the time on their phones, and she quickly offered to give them a lift 10 miles north to the airport, so the women could catch their flight home to Anchorage.

“They hopped up so fast,” said Costello. “They were really getting stressed about not making that flight.”

Costello, as it happens, is the key mover and shaker behind Senate Bill 14, the ride-sharing bill. Alaska is the only state in the nation where ride-sharing technology platforms such as Uber and Lyft are not operating because municipalities control taxi permits, and drivers can’t go between jurisdictions with ease.

In Fairbanks, Anchorage resident Judy Eledge was trying to get a cab to the airport this week, but because of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, could not get one. She was at risk of missing her flight when she saw a young man with a pickup truck and offered him $40 to give her a ride.

 “Well if you don’t mind the smell of pot. I smoke pot,” the young man said.

“Mister, if you can still drive you have a deal,” responded Eledge, and off they went to the airport.

Across the state, Alaskans are finding that cab companies and their spotty records are no longer acceptable in a world where others can hail a ride simply by using the technology on their phones. Without Uber, Alaskans are now bartering for rides and taking their chances with pot-smoking strangers like they’ve never done before.

As the bills move through the Legislature, free-market enthusiasts are optimistic that this year will be the breakthrough year when Alaska joins the rest of the country in allowing the ride-sharing economy to flourish.

The House version of the ride-sharing bill, HB 132, will be heard in House Labor and Commerce on Friday at 3:15 pm. Americans for Prosperity Alaska has information on how Alaskans can testify or send a letter to the committee.