State legislation clears the way for new carpooling app to launch next ski season
When Erwin Germain was ready to launch his new carpooling venture TreadShare, there was one issue standing in his way: He needed the appropriate legislation to ensure his business was legal and viable.
Germain moved to Colorado in 2015 from the French and Swiss Alps, and was surprised to learn the state didn’t have a carpooling system, which he said he used all the time when living in Europe.
“It was a great convenience,” Germain said. “Sometimes, I was a driver taking passengers. Sometimes I was a passenger because I didn’t want to drive or go somewhere where I didn’t want to take my car.”
After arriving in Summit County, he decided to launch TreadShare, a carpooling app that allows Colorado residents to upload their upcoming trips into the system or find other travelers who would pay a fee to accompany them on their ride to or from the mountains.
Germain said he didn’t necessarily start the venture as a way to make money. Instead, he really wanted to provide a way Coloradans could avoid hectic parking at ski resorts and trailheads while also decreasing the amount of traffic on Interstate 70.
There was just one problem. Shortly after Germain and his business partner Justin Kurtz launched the app, they received a cease-and-desist letter from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission because of a state statute.
“Under current Colorado statute, the carpooling app looks like transportation network companies, which are like Uber and Lyft,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie, who represents Summit County. “And so when this happened (last year) before the pandemic struck, we worked quickly with a couple of those apps to see if we could design a different approach for them in statute that we could get them up and operating.”
The main difference between TreadShare and companies like Uber and Lyft is that drivers don’t make a profit. Germain said drivers upload their upcoming trips only if they are already planning to make the trip themselves. Then, others who want to visit the same destination can request to carpool.
Passengers pay a fee, which covers expenses like gas and routine vehicle maintenance. It also encompasses a small commission for TreadShare to keep the app running.
The bill, which McCluskie worked on, started to make its way through the legislative process last year, but when COVID-19 became the focus of the state Legislature, it was put on hold.
Fast-forward nearly a year, and the bill passed in late April, meaning TreadShare will officially be up and running beginning in October.
The new law has a few strings attached. First, because TreadShare isn’t a transportation network company like Uber, it’s not subject to the same rules. For instance, TreadShare must provide a disclosure to users, but background checks don’t have to be performed on drivers, and the vehicles do not need to be inspected. Carpooling apps like TreadShare must also register annually with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The new law also defines what trips can be taken with the app. Rides of 23 miles or more are eligible as well as trips to and from ski resorts, which can be fewer than 23 miles.
This means passengers can take a ride from Dillon to Keystone or from Silverthorne to Breckenridge as long as they are getting dropped off at a ski resort. However, residents cannot bounce from Dillon to Frisco because there is no ski resort involved and the trip is less than 23 miles.
Drivers are also limited to one round trip per day and can carry up to six passengers total. Reimbursement for the trip also cannot exceed the federal mileage reimbursement rate of 56 cents per mile.
“These carpooling apps are not designed to be profit-makers for drivers,” McCluskie said. “They are designed to help people connect, get cars off the road and save some money.”
Germain agrees, saying he started the app as a way for people to connect and to help with the environmental impact caused by heavy traffic on I-70.
Because the guidelines were set at the state level, the app is only available for rides in Colorado, something Germain said he hopes to change in the future.
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