- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (AP) - A funny thing happened two weeks ago when Lewes’ Patrick Jones began work as an Uber driver.

He soon realized that only half his business was the younger, bar-hopping crowd.

The rest came from couples and others who live in the ever-expanding beach region, looking for rides into town and happy to pay a little extra to avoid traffic and parking drama.

Whether you’re a hard-charging 20-something looking to party or a retiree in search of a nice dinner without the hassle, ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are offering new ways for beachgoers to get around.

Sure, the beach already has taxis, the Jolly Trolley, buses, private car services and more. But the app-based services, which first appeared at the beach last year, are undoubtedly changing the way some people get around the congested beaches.

“I think it will be a pretty big game-changer,” says 35-year-old Jones who also works at Rehoboth Beach eateries The Pig + Fish and The Pickled Pig Pub.

The beach is particularly fertile ground for Uber and Lyft drivers with a diverse group of riders looking for transportation at all hours, whether it be the dinner crowd, nightcrawlers or late-night partiers.

The beaches are also a destination for special group outings like bachelorette parties and weddings, which ride-share drivers also count as customers. And even some residents would rather save their spot at home and pay than risk going out and losing it.

“It’s a pretty eclectic group. I’ll spend the beginning of my night driving the after-dinner crowd back to their homes from Rehoboth and then I’ll go into Dewey for the beginning of the bar crowd and stay the rest of the night,” says Jones, who says the app helps synchronize his rides. “It predicts where I’m going next, so if someone is close to that destination, it will be added onto my route.

“So a lot of time it’s a chain where I pick someone up at The Starboard, drop them off at The Rusty Rudder and then someone else there gets in.”

Last summer’s introduction of ride-sharing at the beaches - even in its infant stage - ruffled feathers with taxi drivers and others, just like it has across the country. Towns struggled with the new economic model and how to regulate it.

“I can understand their plight,” Newark’s Angela Nobles, an Uber driver in Ocean City, told The Daily Times last summer as the battle brewed. “But (the taxi drivers) need to see that this is an opportunity for them to step it up and make their business better.”

In Dewey Beach, for example, cab drivers complained that they had to pay a $109 fee to operate in the small, but boisterous, beach town, which ride-share operators did not.

In the off-season, town council deemed that Uber and other ride-share services should be treated like traditional taxi services and pay the same fee. Other towns in Delaware, including at the beaches, also require ride-share drivers to pay a fee.

Town officials aren’t the only ones more familiar with the ride-sharing apps this summer. So are both vacationers and residents. For many, last summer was the first time they had even heard of the service at the beach.

While some have heard of the service through word-of-mouth, others have become familiar with it through publicized negative incidents, including one in Newark last week.

A ride-share driver, whose employer was withheld by police, was charged with third-degree assault, strangulation and disorderly conduct after allegedly getting into a fight with a 19-year-old University of Delaware student.

For Wilmington’s Andrew Stewart, Uber is a new way to get around both at home and while at the beach. He last used it at the beach in February to get back to his parents’ Lewes home after the all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink Georgetown Oyster Eat.

After getting a ride to the annual Georgetown Fire Company fundraiser, he decided to try Uber to get back to Lewes, which is 15 miles away.

“I pulled it up and there just happened to be a car and I jumped in,” says Stewart, 36, a sales representative for Standard Distributing Co., Inc.

Stewart knows from experience how hard it can be to get a ride in and out of Dewey Beach at peak summer hours. With the popularity of ride-shares, he sees more people heading in and out of the town best known for its nightlife.

“If you’re in Dewey and want to go somewhere, you’re walking. And Jolly Trolley is good if you’re going to Rehoboth,” he says. “But a lot more people are living in Lewes and even more farther out, so everyone is pretty much taking Uber to Dewey.

“Dewey Beach is going to be the Uber pick-up and drop-off spot this summer.”

___

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com


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