Uber, an app-based taxi service, has been suspended in Hilton Head’s Sea Pines community after negotiations over gate fees failed.
A temporary service agreement between the company and Sea Pines expired on Dec. 31, and a long-term agreement hasn’t been reached, according to a written statement issued Wednesday by Sea Pines after inquiries by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
In an email response Wednesday to the newspapers, Uber blamed Sea Pines for the suspension.
“Due to the resort's cancellation of our operating agreement, Uber's ridesharing services are now suspended at the Sea Pines Resort,” said Evangeline George, Uber spokeswoman. “Trips may no longer be requested from within Sea Pines property boundaries, and any drivers wishing to access Sea Pines will be subject to the resort's standard $6 entry fee.”
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TJ Dickerman, a Savannah-Hilton Head driver for Uber, said Wednesday the company notified him that service inside Sea Pines was suspended as of midnight Tuesday this week.
Those who request an Uber driver from inside Sea Pines via their mobile phone application will get a notice that service is suspended. “Uber no longer available,” the message tells customers.
Sea Pines will allow Uber drivers through its gates if they either pay the $6 per-entry fee or purchase an annual $225 commercial pass, according to the release from Sea Pines.
Dino Dinenna, a Sea Pines resident and real estate agent, said the Uber service is one that he uses and had plans to use more often.
“We used one last year at Heritage,” he said, referring to the annual golf tournament. “We went to dinner and an evening out. We have been talking about taking advantage of it more as the tourism season picks up, especially for events like Heritage when the parking gets tight.”
Dinenna said he is “concerned that something like this will discourage people from other areas to stay in Sea Pines,” adding, “I don’t want to blame anyone for this, but things are changing, and people are using this service more often.”
It is not unusual for private communities to charge commercial providers a fee to enter their gates.
Amanda Sutcliffe-Jones, director of communications for Sea Pines Community Services Associates, Inc., said Wednesday that taxi companies also have to pay the daily entry or annual fee.
But Uber drivers are different from most taxi companies, Dickerman said.
“We are independent contractors,” he said. “We aren’t making $50,000 a year. Most of us are part-timers, retirees or people like me who are running a business out of their homes while taking care of kids.”
Dickerman said he wouldn’t pay the annual commercial fee because he is uncertain how often he will enter Sea Pines.
Peter Kristian, Hilton Head Plantation’s general manager, said Wednesday the community recently negotiated a contract with Uber that started Jan. 1.
“They have placed an electronic perimeter around our community,” he said. “When any of the (Uber) drivers come through, it automatically charges the driver $2. That automatically gets deposited in our account by Uber once a month.”
It took “many discussions” with Uber to come up with a compromise, Kristian said.
The daily entry fee for most types of businesses is $10, he said, noting that taxi companies pay an annual fee of $55 per cab.
“This model accommodated them (Uber) much better,” Kristian said. “We are going to do it for a year and see how it goes. So far, so good. They are pleased, and we are pleased, and the customer is happy.”
Uber also has access agreements with Palmetto Dunes and Shipyard plantations, George said.