Zolnikov Opinion: Montana reasons to cheer Uber debut

Uber is finally in Montana. The app-based technology company connects people who need rides with certified, insured drivers with just a few taps on a smartphone, usually at a lower cost than typical taxis.

In 2015, Montana’s Legislature passed a law allowing ride-sharing services to compete in Big Sky Country. One of the strongest points of this legislation was that it updated our previously restrictive laws so free market solutions could better serve Montanans.

This high-tech innovation is a real win for our state. By staying current with trends, cities like Billings will be able to better attract and retain younger workers. Ride-sharing will help towns across Montana alleviate parking shortages, especially during games, fairs, rodeos and concerts. It will be easier than ever for students to attend college without a vehicle. Tourists and out-of-state visitors will be able to get off the airplane and catch a ride immediately.

This will also create a balanced solution for distillers, breweries, bars and Montanans out enjoying a few drinks. Ride sharing services like Uber have great potential to help solve Montana’s rampant DUI problem by providing an affordable and reliable way to get home safe.

Montanans know that cabs can take up to an hour to catch after 10 p.m. on a weekend, due to high demand. I have experienced this, along with many Montanans, including college students. Uber can fill the gap During peak times.

Driving for Uber will also give many Montanans the opportunity to earn extra income, something desperately needed in our low-average-wage state.

But with this change comes more responsibility. There will no longer be any excuses for people who drink excessively and then get behind the wheel. I supported and carried this legislation in the House because it created a solution, not more prohibitions. Too many lives have been lost due to drunken driving, and now we have a fast, cheap, accessible solution. It is our responsibility to hold not only our friends and family, but ourselves accountable, especially for the cost of a ride adding up to less than a round at the bar. I’m going to personally help set this example by being a part-time Uber driver myself.

In a time of political strife, it is worth mentioning the legislators who supported this effort. This bill passed with 50 Republican and 10 Democrat legislators voting in favor, and 31 Democrat and 9 Republican legislators in opposition. Other Billings area representatives that voted for the legislation include Jeff Essmann, Clayton Fiscus, Dave Hagstrom, Don Jones, Sarah Laszloffy, Kelly McCarthy, Dale Mortensen, Vince Ricci, and Tom Richmond. Representatives Jessica Karjala, Kathy Kelker and Margie MacDonald did not support the legislation.

Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, represents a House District in the Heights and is seeking re-election.