As a matter of fact, giving the public its first look at its financial results and the risk factors that investors should consider, Lyft just filed with the Security and Exchange Commission to list on the NASDAQ. This smaller rival of Uber disclosed growing losses, but revenue growth. Why? One of the risk factors Lyft cited was that certain populations might not widely adopt ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber, choosing to stay with private car ownership, taxi services and other traditional means of transportation. As a satisfied ride sharer, I became curious…. let’s face it, who wouldn’t want this new efficiency?
Lyft’s cited risk factor introduced itself to me just last week. New England winter begets vacation thoughts and a trip was booked to Vieques, Puerto Rico last November. Although there were tragic reports about Hurricane Maria devastating the island, our Vieques research gave us the feeling of optimistic recovery, hopeful enough to escape and explore when February pushes us to winter’s limits. Months in advance, Boston/San Juan/Vieques flights were booked and our accommodations were secured and confirmed, all via one of the many online travel brokers, sans human intervention.
A week before departure, feeling extremely organized, we explored ground transportation for our Vieques stay. Conjuring up images of shiny convertibles in the sun, we checked online with ubiquitous Avis and the four island rental agencies. Due to Maria’s destruction and the resilient recovery of tourism, we were told there were no cars available ON THE ENTIRE ISLAND. No golf carts. Nope, no scooters. Not even a bike. The Spanish word nada took on a sinister sound. We alerted our soon-to-be concierge at Hacienda Tamarindo of our dilemma and she said she would intervene and investigate on our behalf, no problema. My Anglo brain relaxed, trusting that no problema would cancel out nada. Did I mention I was an optimist?
Being a “Smart Cities” practitioner, I immediately devised my own no problema: we’ll just use Uber, just like I do everywhere when traveling. To my surprise, despite a population of over 9000 islanders, Uber and Lyft do not serve Vieques and Vieques apparently isn’t troubled by their absence. I knew our first challenge developed when we realized how distant the airport was from our hotel. A couple of quick calls to the hotel produced Manny of M&M Transport meeting us at the casual open-air airport for a trip to the hotel. Of course, there he was, the only grinning guy holding a sign with my first name on it. Problem solved. Manny runs one of at least three taxi services on the island, with fares a typical flat one-way rate of $10. Obviously, one needs to plan and book in advance via phone or text, but this small fleet of competing taxi drivers seemingly drives around the island all day long, very happy to stop, start, divert, soothe and suggest, and proudly point out little quirks of Vieques along the way. Absent of a Chamber of Commerce, these guys happily fill the void. I’d be happy, too, considering that Manny told us that during Maria’s aftermath he went to Wisconsin to haul 18-wheelers full of cheese to make ends meet.
Fortunately, our lodging was about a one-mile walk from a fine selection of restaurants, other hotels and a little commerce. But we found ourselves quite distant from the island’s main city of Isabella II. Historic sites, the countless beaches, and even a world wonder of bioluminescence at Mosquito Bay (https://vieques.com/island-bioluminescent-bay/) were out of reach without wheels. One day into our trip, despite the friendliness and generous spirit of other tourists willing to tote us around, we were still at nada.
But…… back to networking…... We asked around if a private car rental might be an option. Our concierge Marie (not to be confused with the hurricane), lit up as if an optimistic light bulb had switched on. She said she had an idea and to check back with her soon. It turned out, she was indeed a force of nature. She asked Amos, the maintenance dude if he knew anyone. That led to a cousin who had a friend named Alexi who rents a couple of cars privately. Since we were on island time, this search took two days for the power of the human network to connect to Alexi. Our ride (see pics) was an island car, an immaculate weather-beaten 1998 Jeep Cherokee Sport, low mileage at only 130k. There was no driver’s license check, no charge card deposit, just cash to the car owner’s cousin’s friend at the hotel. The return instructions were also simple; just drop off the Jeep at the airport with a full tank and the key secured in a small lock box on the roof rack. We grinned when we realized that by fortunately scoring the last car on the island, that the only other non-explored option for transportation would have been to lasso one of the thousands of semi-wild free-range horses roaming Vieques, but we had flip-flops, not cowboy boots. Nada indeed turned into no problema for the rest of the week.
So back to the risk cited in Lyft’s filing; will more remote areas ever adapt ride hailing services? Could Manny score more trips and earn more money with dynamic ride share pricing? Could other islanders benefit from the extra cash? And would we have missed driving a 21-year-old Jeep around Vieques for a week? I keep thinking about it, how in the end the power of the human network prevailed. Thanks, Marie, you were more powerful than you know.
P.S. Non-smart cities still can have smart elements….the wild horses know when the campers are showering, and mooch water from the dripping spouts.
Written By Chris Davis, VP of Smart Cities
CIMCON Lighting, Inc