Lyft and Uber have left the starting line.
In a brief ceremony Thursday afternoon, Gov. Bill Walker signed legislation allowing ride-sharing “transportation network companies” to begin work in the state. Those companies wasted no time; by Thursday afternoon, Lyft and Uber had each begun showing cars and fares in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.
Sponsored by Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, and inspired by Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, House Bill 132 is the vehicle for Uber and Lyft to enter Alaska.
The 49th state is the 50th state to allow these companies to connect riders and freelance drivers through smartphone applications. HB 132 surmounted opposition from taxicab drivers, union organizers and municipal leaders who said the measure provides convenience at the cost of safety.
Those arguments failed to carry much weight with ordinary Alaskans, who remained overwhelmingly in support of HB 132 (and its predecessors) during the several years it took to become law.
“I think it’s something all Alaskans want, and we worked very hard on it,” Wool said as Walker formally signed the bill in the Cabinet Room of the Capitol.
“I think Alaskans want bipartisanship in our legislation, and that’s what this is,” Costello said, alluding to the fact that when her version of the Uber bill stalled in the House, Wool rescued the idea with a complementary plan.
“You signing it today is a real great step for Alaskans,” she told Walker.
“I’m very happy to sign it here today,” the governor said, adding that “some of the concerns of local government” will be addressed.
The nation’s two leading ride-sharing companies, Lyft and Uber are wasting no time activating their service in Alaska. A Lyft spokesman had stated by email that his company would have cars on the road as soon as the governor signed the bill, and that held true.
Uber said by email that it will launch its Anchorage service at 3 p.m. Friday, with Juneau service starting Monday and Fairbanks (plus the rest of the state) starting on Wednesday. Uber will host a launch party 6-8 p.m. Monday at Hangar on the Wharf. Similar events are planned for Anchorage and Fairbanks.
According to information provided by the Lyft app, several Lyft cars were operating in Anchorage and Fairbanks at 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon. None were shown in Juneau.
Even when cars start driving in Juneau, there will be limits.
A map on Lyft’s website shows the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center out of bounds. Also beyond Lyft’s range are the University of Alaska Southeast, Auke Bay (including the ferry terminal), much of North Douglas, and Thane Road past the Rock Dump district.
Both companies are recruiting drivers for their Alaska service, and Lyft is offering a discount for riders who use the code “LYFTLOVE17” in their smartphone application.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 419-7732.