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Need a lift? Unable to drive? No car?

Here's your solution: The two major ride-hailing companies, Uber and Lyft, have quietly set up shop in the Berkshires, ramping up the number of drivers available for passengers to summon for transportation, primarily in Pittsfield, Lenox and Great Barrington at the start.

As word spreads, residents who rely on BRTA bus service, which is not available at night or Sundays, or on very limited taxi service, can use their smartphones to seek an available car to take them to or from their destinations.

Visitors from New York or Boston who don't own a car and arrive by bus or by Metro North train to Wassaic, N.Y., can use a ride-summoning service to get around, subject to availability.

Uber recently raised its profile in the Berkshires, reaching out the Lenox Chamber of Commerce to publicize the service through social media posts and distribution of discount cards, said Kameron Spaulding, the organization's president. But Lyft is on the road as well, though with fewer drivers right now.

"They're closing the gap, paying the drivers more per ride, but Uber is almost becoming the catchphrase for getting a car, even more than a taxi," said Spaulding.

"In the last month or so, we've really started to see more drivers because they know it's profitable now," he said. "Nobody's going to make a living driving for Uber in the off-season, it's a supplement. But in July and August, you can make a full-time equivalent living."

On average, Uber takes about 20 to 25 percent of the fare earned by drivers. Lyft gets a 25 percent commission, but pays drivers more and offers a signing bonus of up to $500 for new drivers who hit certain milestones in their first weeks.

Drivers can apply via Uber and Lyft apps or on their websites; a state-run background check in Massachusetts and proof of state vehicle inspection is required. Drivers supply their own insurance.

Pittsfield resident Jamie Trie, who cannot drive because of health issues, relies on BRTA buses when possible. But she is a frequent user of Uber and has started summoning Lyft, since her job as marketing director at the Lenox Chamber of Commerce often involves night or Sunday work.

"There are quite a few people in the Berkshires who are in the same boat," the city native pointed out. "There haven't been many options for people who don't drive."

Some can't afford a car while others don't work according to the weekday 9 to 5 routine, making it difficult to depend on bus service. A monthly car payment and insurance may exceed regular use of Lyft or Uber.

Uber has "naturally, organically grown" from its startup in Boston six years ago, said Carlie Waibel, a company spokeswoman. After expanding to Cape Cod and the Islands, and westward to the Worcester area, Uber launched in the Berkshires early this month, the final slice of state territory to be covered, she said.

"People wanted the option of a convenient, affordable way to get around," Waibel said, especially in areas with limited public transit. "We heard from people excited about the opportunity." Uber has coordinated with the 1Berkshire strategic alliance and with Tanglewood, as well as the Lenox Chamber of Commerce.

As for the heavier demand in summer and a reduced customer base in the off-season, Waibel emphasized the company's flexibility. "Our driver-partners can drive whenever it works for them in the winter months, on their own schedule."

When medical necessity required Trie to start using public transportation three years ago, working in Stockbridge, she found bus schedules limited because of funding constraints. Several area limousine companies cater primarily to affluent customers seeking transportation to the Albany or Hartford airports, for example.

Both Uber and Lyft are working to promote their arrival. Uber is offering a first ride free up to a $20 value, while Lyft has a free trip up to $25.

Although summer season visitors are a prime target for the two companies, Trie believes "there are many of us out there in the off-season that cannot drive. In today's society, people think everybody's got a car, especially here in the Berkshires. Uber is a very affordable alternative, as long as they're readily available."

The reason Berkshire County is fertile territory in the summer, Spaulding said, is that "so many of our customers come from New York or Boston, where they're using this in their daily lives. It's a convenience they're used to, one more resource for people to get around."

During the past few weeks, he noted, Uber service has gone from "sporadically available to consistently available; you can use it more reliably than you could up until now."

Competition from Lyft is bound to benefit passengers as well as drivers, who are free to work for both ride-summoning services.

According to Lyft's Communications Director Adrian Durbin, the company is "the fastest-growing on-demand transportation service," with drivers in 350 regions now, covering 80 percent of the U.S. population.

"We knew there was demand for our service in the Berkshires, but it took us a little longer to get there, as is typical for less-populated areas," he added.

Pointing out that "we launch when we believe we have an adequate number of drivers," he predicted that service will improve as more drivers come aboard.

Durbin noted that 80 percent of the service's drivers are part-time, "looking to make a little extra money on the side to supplement their income, like teachers who drive in the summer." Applications are available online.

Demonstrating Lyft's hard-charging second-place challenge to Uber, he listed a 30 percent market share, up from 10 percent in 2015, "and we've been increasing the pace of those gains. We're focused on providing the best possible experience for drivers as well as passengers, and we expect to win."

Or, as the Lenox Chamber's Spaulding put it, "we're looking at what's likely to be the world's biggest taxi companies."

Reach Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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