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OpinionColumnistsAmanda Fiscina

Lessons from ride-hailing’s first official LI week

Ocean Parkway near Jones Beach Field 5.

Ocean Parkway near Jones Beach Field 5. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

“It’s actually my first time on this road ever,” my Uber driver confided on Sunday morning as he merged onto the Loop Parkway, rolling down the windows to let the salty air and sunshine into his immaculate sedan on our drive to Long Beach.

This was a first for Long Island, too, the inaugural weekend ride-hailing services were allowed to operate legally thanks to a new state law.

There was a good reason to take the service for a spin. I had scored a perfect parking spot right in front of my driveway-less house in Long Beach after work Friday, the eve of the long Fourth of July weekend. There was no way I was moving the car, so I got a ride from a friend to Massapequa for my brother’s college graduation party on Saturday.

But which would be the best choice to get me back to the beach on this beautiful day: the newly legal ride-hailing companies; a taxi, the longtime rulers of the road; or the distressed LIRR?

Uber vs. cab vs. LIRR by the numbers

At 8:30 a.m. Sunday, this was the cost of going 19.4 miles between Massapequa and Long Beach:

Uber: $33.75, 11-minute wait, plus a half-hour drive.

Taxi: $60, 20-minute wait, plus a half-hour drive.

LIRR: $8.50, and a 56-minute ride (plus the wait to get on the 9:43 train).

Ride-hailing was the clear winner, especially because taxis don’t take debit cards, and the LIRR runs only once an hour and requires a transfer. The Uber app showed very few cars roaming nearby, though, and by the time I ate breakfast and said goodbyes, the price had jumped to $48. I requested anyway.

Timing is of the essence

That $33.75 appeared to be the standard ride-hailing fare for this trip, based on prices provided all weekend and this week. That’s reasonable, especially when splitting it with another passenger. But unlike the mostly stable taxi price (although I have gotten higher quotes in the past, because town-to-town pricing is subjective for cabs, too) I saw that Uber fare sporadically reach $60 or $120 — and even as high as $200 after 10 p.m.

On Tuesday at 2 a.m. in Long Beach, we heard our door open. In came my roommate’s brother and his friends. They had tried to find an Uber, but the fare had jumped into the hundreds of dollars. They hadn’t called a cab to compare, but I did recently, and found that wait times for cabs at that hour could be two hours. They stayed over.

Prices for ride-hailing surged because demand was high. But there also could have been a shortage of drivers on a crowded holiday weekend. Uber won’t release the numbers.

Speaking of Uber Inc.

Yes, I’m guilty. All of the above references Uber. I often use the name “Uber” synonymously with ride-hailing and request Ubers even as my friends put their wallets where their mouths are to protest the scandalized company.

I’ve used other ride-hailing companies with less-controversial reputations, like Via and Juno, in New York City. I opened several of these apps Sunday to find messages such as, “We aren’t in this coverage area yet, check back soon.” Bummer. Lyft had a similar fare to Uber, but a longer wait.

Uber and Lyft have been operating on LI under the radar for at least a year. A true embrace of ride-hailing would be if all these apps were now operating here.

Driving is still king on L.I.

My family and friends all tried to foil my experiment. I had many ride offers both to Massapequa and back to Long Beach, and ultimately caved for the initial ride there.

This speaks not only to their generosity, but also to the “Let’s just take a ride” culture. People like driving. Driving is still a reflex. And perhaps that could be an advantage to recruiting the additional drivers needed to make rides-hailing take hold on Long Island.

My driver was from Brooklyn. He was in his 20s or 30s, a full-time student who drives on the side. He drove in New Jersey for the past year and was excited for the first weekend on Long Island. He mostly drives in the mornings (he doesn’t like to risk his spotless car being ruined by the inebriated crowd) and was headed to church at noon after he dropped us off.

His story aligned so much with Uber’s marketing that I actually questioned whether Uber planted him.

Convenience to me is balancing the equation of cost, time and not moving my car from its perfect spot. Ride-hailing added up.

Amanda Fiscina is a web producer for Newsday Opinion.