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Taxi operator stays positive despite Lyft's arrival

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Traffic flows along South Burr Street between Interstate 90 and East Havens Avenue. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 2

Dusty Feistner doesn't think what happened to taxi operators in Sioux Falls will happen to him.

A recent report from the Argus Leader found eight cab drivers in Sioux Falls missed the deadline for license renewal, and five indicated they are closing shop for good. Then, on Monday, Lyft landed in Mitchell, leaving the future of taxicab operators in Mitchell in limbo.

But Speedy Taxi's Feistner isn't fretting yet. While he sees Lyft as a competitor in the multi-passenger market, as the ride-sharing service charges per car rather than per passenger, he'll wait to see how the market shifts upon Lyft's arrival. But he's well aware it could hurt the taxi business in Mitchell, particularly with group rides.

"I don't think it's going to put me under, I really don't," Feistner said on Tuesday. "I think it's going to affect me, but I don't think it's going to put me under."

Feistner has been managing and operating Speedy Taxi since October, with two minivans in service and charging $5 per person, per ride. But Monday night's Mitchell City Council decision added a new competitor.

The first Lyft taxicab license was issued to Thomas Schaffner by a 7-1 vote, with Councilman Mel Olson dissenting. Council President Steve Rice questioned why the city would regulate private business, and Councilman Jeff Smith echoed Rice's comment.

"Generally, if you do a good job and you're in business, you're going to stay in business," Smith said Monday night to taxi operators. "You probably won't agree with me, but it might make you better."

But Feistner agreed with Olson, who wondered Monday night what implications there would be for older taxi customers. Feistner, who said some of his customers range from children to senior citizens, wondered what those who aren't familiar with mobile apps like Lyft would do if Mitchell's taxi services would fold like those in Sioux Falls.

"I don't know what they would do, to be honest, I don't know," Feistner said. "... If the taxi companies all went under, I think it would leave a lot of people in a heck of a pinch, I really do."

For those who haven't used Lyft or weren't able to watch the City Council get a crash course in the ride-sharing service Monday night, the operation is fairly straightforward.

Riders download a mobile app and hail a car from their phone. It pinpoints their location, allows them to set their destination and shows them a photo of their driver and what car will be used to pick them up.

According to the Lyft website, the cost to ride per minute in South Dakota is $0.25, and a minimum fare is set at $3.40. A base fare is also set at $1.50 when picked up in a standard Lyft vehicle that seats four passengers. All of this is paid through the app with a credit card, and no cash changes hands.

The major difference between Lyft and Speedy Taxi is that Feistner charges per person. And he's considering possibly purchasing a large van that could hold more passengers than a Lyft vehicle, making his service more useful to large parties.

For now, Schaffner is Lyft driver licensed to operate in Mitchell. But he's clearly not the only person interested in driving for Lyft.

At least two other drivers were operating in Mitchell without a license, and Assistant Police Chief Mike Koster said Monday they were made aware of the need to comply with the city's licensing rules.

Even if more drivers arrive, Feistner said he plans to keep on driving.

"I just really enjoy driving," Feistner said. "Obviously I'm trying to make a living doing it, but I actually enjoy driving and helping people out."