[By Tessa McLean]
When you open up the Lyft or Uber app in the Lake Tahoe area, you’re likely to encounter a long wait time or notice that there are only a few cars available on the road.
But this isn’t because there aren’t enough drivers on the apps.
If you’ve requested a ride from a town like King’s Beach or South Lake Tahoe, there may be plenty of empty cars just across the border in Nevada — but they can’t pick you up.
California state law requires that Uber and Lyft drivers registered in the state only pick up rides within the state. The same goes for Nevada. That means if you flew into the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, you can only be picked up by a Nevada state driver. That driver can take you wherever you want — all the way to San Francisco, if they have the time.
The problem is that when they’re finished and ready for another ride, they have to travel back into their home state to do so.
“I’ll never see a trip request that originates outside of California. It’s just the way the system works,” Jeff Davies, an Uber driver on the California side, said. “I’m sure Uber doesn’t want it that way either, but it’s states controlling their turf.”
Davies said since the short trips aren’t as common because of crossing state lines, he hopes to get a long trip each time he works, like one driving someone all the way to the Sacramento airport.
While he said he enjoys the work, he said it’s his third source of income, and it probably wouldn’t be sustainable on its own.
Cyndee Shuey, who drives for both Lyft and Uber on the Nevada side, has lived in the Lake Tahoe area for 32 years. Shuey said she was one of the first drivers to sign up to drive for Lyft when the company debuted in the area four years ago. She had driven a cab previously, but saw a lot of benefit in being able to make her own schedule and work when she wanted.
Now, she said sometimes it’s hard even getting more than one ride a day. On a recent phone call, Shuey told me she’d signed on to the apps at 6 a.m. It was 12:30 p.m. when we spoke and she’d only had one ride. “In the beginning the ratio was reasonable for drivers to passengers. I could turn on the app and get rides on a consistent basis and make enough money,” she said. “Not anymore.”
Shuey said she’s only able to stay afloat because her network of friends often call her when they need rides to the airport. She said the best time to work is between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., since that’s when most people go home from the casinos.
She thinks the key is changing the law to have a setup similar to what drivers in New York and neighboring New Jersey experience. Drivers in those states can pick up and drop off in either state, Uber confirmed.
When she started driving four years ago, Lyft told Shuey they were working on changing the rules. She’s followed up several times with both companies and said she gets “brushed off” every time.
Uber said the company isn’t currently lobbying to change state law on this issue, but opted not to comment further.
“Both states have specific driver and vehicle requirements, with which we must comply. We understand drivers’ frustration over this issue and hope to find a solution,” a Lyft spokesperson told us, but declined to answer any further questions.
She’s also concerned about the environmental impacts of drivers driving empty half the time, affecting pollution in the area.
Darcie Goodman Collins, CEO of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, confirmed that stormwater pollution created by traffic is the number one threat to Tahoe’s famous blue waters.
“Changing state regulations to allow for cross-border pick-ups is possible,” Collins said. “In 2018, the League launched a microtransit shuttle service to test a possible long-term solution to South Shore traffic. That shuttle pilot project was allowed to operate on both sides of the border. That required a bi-state fix, and it could be possible again here as well.”
Shuey said while the issue is something she still feels passionately about, she’s probably done all that she can. “It’s up to California and Nevada, they’re the ones that have to make the agreement for reciprocity,” she said. “Without their blessing, Uber and Lyft’s hands are tied.”