The ride-sharing taxi alternative Uber is making a surprise launch in Santa Fe today, giving a lift to Mayor Javier Gonzales from the Plaza as its “Rider Zero.”

"We know that particularly in the evenings people prefer to have access to convenient public transportation. The more options that we can have available to them, the better," Gonzales says after taking a short ride just before 10 am. He notes that he's excited about "the business model that Uber brings."

The company allows riders to call for a driver using a smart phone and charge the purchase directly to a credit card on file.

Steve Thompson, Uber's general manager for New Mexico, says the company came here after seeing thousands of potential users logging onto the app from around the city.

"Individuals want more more options on how to get around Santa Fe," he says, noting that hundreds of people also expressed interest in being Uber drivers here.

Santa Fe’s taxi scene has been dominated by Capital City Cab for the past 30 years. Company owner Matt Knowles first heard the news about the city cheerleading for Uber from SFR.

Ride-sharing companies can be detrimental to established businesses that have gone through the state’s regulation process, says Knowles, who argues that for the same reason, they can also be risky to riders.

“The way we look at that is if you walked out of a bar, Evangelo’s or whatever bar downtown, and some guy wrote 'taxi' on the side of his car with white shoe polish, you probably wouldn’t get in that car,” he says. “As near as I can tell, all Uber or Lyft is offering is a way for that guy not to have to write “taxi” on the side of the car. He’s just connecting to you with an app. He’s still a stranger, you know nothing about his car inspection, nothing about his background. You don’t know about what kind of insurance he’s got. You are taking your chances if you ride with someone who is not a regulated entity.”

Although it’s too soon to tell what the effect could be here for his 70 employees, based on what happens in other cities, ride-sharing drivers “cherrypick” customers from hotel and bar areas. Knowles says that takes away lucrative business while the licensed cab company still has to serve customers in the far reaches of the city.

“The [Public Regulation Commission]  has decided that the public is best served by one entity that can then get all the customers and keep prices down and service relatively high, whereas if you get multiple entities, those entities tend to focus on the denser areas and the outlying areas don’t get the same service,” says Knowles.

“They are all focused on smart phones, and they will be hanging around the bars and the expensive hotels for the most valuable customers,” he says, “and somebody whose grandma who doesn’t have a smart phone and wants to go to Kmart, they are not going to get Uber.”

Knowles says Capital Cab will also soon get in on the smart phone scene with its planned launch of an app for iPhone and Android.

Uber’s arrival on the transportation scene has made waves across the nation. When both it and Lyft kicked off in Albuquerque this year, the debate finally hit New Mexico.

In late September, a state District Court judge

to those rides when five taxi cab and limousine owners in Albuquerque sought relief in court. New Mexico Watchdog also reports that the PRC issued a cease-and-desist order earlier in the summer, but the companies have kept on rolling, and now the commission is taking public comment on the situation with an eye toward rulemaking in the upcoming legislative session.

Uber also landed in the news this week for comments one of its executives made to a Buzzfeed editor about

who dole out critical coverage. The company’s PR office was quick to issue a retort that those statements don’t reflect its values.

Here’s a

that the same spin machine issued this morning about coming to Santa Fe.

Rebecca Reynolds, whom Uber named as its first New Mexico driver, says she went through a background check before getting permission to be a driver. She says the job offers flexibility that will supplement her income from the hospitality industry.

Thompson says riders should feel assured that drivers have been vetted.

"Of hundreds of applicants, there's very few of them who make it through the process because of how stringent our background check process is," he says, noting that the company looks at federal, state and local-level criminal databases and driving record histories.

Cars used by approved drivers, he says, also must undergo a 19-point vehicle inspection, must have four doors and must be model year 2005 or newer.



Julie Ann Grimm and Nick Martinez collaborated on this story.