By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor
BIG SKY – On May 23, Big Sky resident Regan Christian-Frederick earned his first fare as an Uber driver—in Bozeman.
He was sitting at the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Belgrade, where a special queue for Uber drivers has been established, when he accepted a “ping” from someone requesting a ride in Bozeman. Upon pick-up, he learned they needed a ride back to the airport. As they exited his red 2009 Honda Fit, Christian-Frederick remembers his first passenger saying, “I don’t know why anybody would take a cab over an Uber.”
While Shuttle to Big Sky and Taxi does provide transportation services to and within Big Sky, it is primarily group- and reservation-based. Karst Stage and a few other companies also offer shuttles between the airport and Big Sky if you book ahead.
Christian-Frederick, a Big Sky Resort ski patroller in the winter and Terraflow Trail Systems trail builder in the summer, has long seen the need for an on-call transportation service in Big Sky. But when he looked into starting a private shuttle company, he found it cost-prohibitive and snared in bureaucratic red tape at the state and federal levels.
“Uber has bridged that gap and made it possible,” Christian-Frederick said.
Although he had never used the ride-hailing company prior to becoming a driver, he knew it was a widely used service.
“Big Sky is a destination. It doesn’t matter if people who live here use it, the people who travel here are the ones who expect it to be here,” Christian-Frederick said. He added that in terms of a guest service it’s an important amenity, especially for families who may be staying at the resort but want to dine in the meadow without having to coordinate with the bus schedule. “Skyline and Karst provide really good services, but the on-call ease of Uber … guests are used to that all over the world.”
Christian-Frederick is currently driving for Uber four days a week, splitting his time between Big Sky and Bozeman, where he’s guaranteed steady business between the airport, university and downtown.
He plans to be available in Big Sky on Wednesdays and Thursdays for the farmers market and Music in the Mountains respectively; and to start his day in Big Sky on Friday, likely moving on to Bozeman eventually, preferably with riders in tow.
Fares between Town Center and Mountain Village are averaging $20 per ride, for up to four people. On June 9, during a busy night following the Pinky and the Floyd concert at Rainbow Ranch, Christian-Frederick reported a fare of $6 from the venue to the stoplight at Highway 191 and Lone Mountain Trail.
Christian-Frederick believes he is the only Uber driver in Big Sky currently, but says he knows of two other locals who are poised to join the ranks of the service.
Although the company will not share specific driver numbers, Brian Gebhardt, Uber’s general manager for Montana, wrote in an email to EBS that, “there are thousands of drivers throughout the state and more than a hundred in and around Bozeman.”
He also explained that because ridesharing is regulated at the state level in Montana, drivers can accept trip requests anywhere in the state once they’re approved to use the Uber app.
According to Christian-Frederick, becoming an Uber driver only entailed downloading the app, having a 2002 or newer vehicle, providing proof of insurance and registration, and undergoing a background check and vehicle inspection.
He’s found it an easy and convenient means to earning supplementary income, as he simply turns the app on when he wants to accept rides.
“I didn’t have a lot of expectations; my goal was to make $300 a month,” Christian-Frederick said. “And I’ve already blown that out of the water.”
He especially enjoys shuttling people to Bozeman when he’s headed there anyway. He added that how they get back to Big Sky would be on them, or another Uber driver who might accept the ride before knowing the distance of the destination. While drivers can refuse a ride upon pick-up if learning that it is farther than they want to travel, just like having the app on and not accepting rides, it negatively affects their user rating. Currently Uber drivers are not privy to the destination prior to accepting a pick-up.
Hiccups like these are more likely to happen in reverse. It might be fairly easy to get an Uber ride from Bozeman to Big Sky, but with only one local driver offering limited service, there’s no guarantee of catching an Uber back.
“I think as more drivers become active, riders will continue to have more positive experiences and there will be more riders requesting trips,” Gebhardt wrote. “Our job is to make sure people know how easy, convenient and rewarding it is to use the Uber app, as a driver. That’s something we’ll continue working on.”
In the meantime, it only takes a moment to download the app and see if Christian-Frederick or any of the other soon-to-be Uber drivers in Big Sky are open, or online, for business.