It's 9:15 p.m. on a Friday when Carrie Romanoski turns on her Uber and Lyft apps in Cloquet. To her surprise, they both dinged immediately.
She had been explaining to the Pine Journal that she doesn't receive many requests for rides in Carlton County. Luckily, a concert at Carlton's Black Bear Casino Resort just ended.
Romanski has been driving for both companies for a few years.
She started driving for Uber in the Twin Cities on weekends to see if she liked it and to supplement her income.
When the companies began in Duluth, Romanoski quickly got in on the action - first with Uber, then with Lyft when they came to the area. She rarely receives calls for rides in Carlton County, but is hoping that will change once people discover their availability.
She explained that once the application to drive is accepted and background checked, the vehicle needs to be inspected. The vehicles need to be under 10 years old for both companies.
Jake Fay and Breanna Bertozzi were looking for a ride from the concert at the casino to a nearby hotel. They used the Lyft app to contact Romanoski. Once she accepted, she called the couple to make them aware a reporter was riding in the car with her. They said that was fine. The phone call routes through the Lyft's California number, so driver and rider privacy is protected.
The couple were from the Twin Cities area and use Lyft regularly when they go out, a common theme with riders that night. The couple expressed surprise that the Lyft ride before the concert took 15 minutes to arrive at their hotel. In the Cities, the wait is usually a few minutes. The drive was a half-mile and took only a few minutes. The couple was thankful for Romanoski's quick response.
When Romanoski looked at Uber and Lyft apps, she saw that Lyft was offering a $25 bonus if she gave five rides within a certain timeframe. She headed to downtown Duluth, where she usually keeps busy Friday and Saturday nights. Many times, she works until bar close to boost her income. On an average busy weekend, she said she can make $300.
She noted that while she gives rides to a range of ages, millennials keep her busiest. Most of the people Friday night were in their 20s and several wanted rides home from bars.
As soon as she reaches the destination, she pushes a button on the app to let the rider know she is there. They have five minutes to show up. If they don't, Romanoski still receives a nominal pay from the company.
When she drives for Uber, she places a lit sign in the corner of her windshield so the riders can locate her vehicle.
The riders app shows a photo of the driver, make and model and licence plate of the vehicle.
The riders cite the price difference between Uber and Lyft as the most common reason they choose Lyft. The other reason mentioned by several riders is because Lyft gives a higher percentage of the fare to the driver than Uber.
Hannah Vogel, 22, and Sam Harper, 25, were also from the Cities and in Duluth for a weekend getaway.
"You don't have to worry about parking," Vogel said. "The prices are reasonable."
Emily Lind is a 22-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth student. She lives in a home with five other women and estimates they use the service on average four times a week. She said she rarely rides alone, as she did Friday night. The girls always ride in groups when they leave bars.
Romanoski checked her apps and discovered there were eight each of Uber and Lyft drivers working in downtown Duluth on Friday night.
Wade Sunde, 39, is a lifelong Duluth resident and uses Uber or Lyft when he goes out. He likes that Lyft often offers discounts or specials to riders.
"It beats the alternative of a DWI," Sunde said.
Derek Dahly, 21, a UMD student from Forest Lake, Minn., echoed that sentiment.
"Take a sober ride," he advised.