The Census Bureau released its latest Nonemployer Statistics, from 2016, in June. Nonemployer establishments are businesses that don’t have paid employees. The vast majority are one-person sole proprietorships. This latest round of numbers is all about the boom in ridesharing, according to the agency’s press release. The taxi and limousine service sector, which includes drivers for Uber and Lyft, is the fastest-growing sector among nonemployer industries, more than doubling between 2015 and 2016.

And the county with the single biggest ridesharing boom in the country? Missoula County, which led the nation for rate of growth in counties with 100,000 or more residents. Gallatin and Yellowstone counties landed in the Top 10 as well.

There’s a simple explanation for that explosive growth: Before 2016, there were no Uber drivers in the state. How many of the 57 reported nonemployer taxi and limousine services in Missoula County in 2016 might still be driving this year is a harder number to nail down. Anecdotal observation shows no more than 10 drivers available at any one time via the app, and the city doesn’t track the ridesharing market. Missoula’s Business License Coordinator Kristi Craw says that rideshare drivers, like any other sole proprietor, are required to get a business license only if they make $6,000 a year or more. A search of city business licenses issued since 2016 doesn’t show a single one issued for the purpose of driving for a ridesharing company.

And the 2015 state legislation that paved the way for ridesharing companies to do business in Montana expressly forbids local governments from taxing transportation network carriers or imposing “any other operational requirements.” That means no per-ride fee, like Portland’s 50 cent per-ride charge, although the Missoula airport collects a dollar per ride from rideshare drivers, the same as it does from taxi companies, according to deputy airport director Brian Ellestad.

Ridesharing showed the most dramatic growth in the county, but it wasn’t the only booming sector. Online wholesalers, crop production support and building inspection services all saw total receipts more than double. Traveler accommodation, the sector that includes Airbnb rentals and other tourist homes, grew from just under $1.3 million to nearly $2.9 million.

Uber tells prospective drivers to “get your side hustle on,” and that’s what they seem to do, rather than drive full-time. A white paper published in May by the D.C.-based nonprofit Economic Policy Institute says that “most ride-hailing drivers drive far fewer than 40 hours a week and only for a few months a year.” Presumably it’s their second or third job. Which makes sense. Ridesharing, while having the most impressive boom in participation, showed more modest earnings growth. In 2014, Missoula County was home to four taxi and limo nonemployer establishments with total receipts of $132,000, or $33,000 each on average. In 2016, when the number of transportation nonemployer establishments in Missoula increased to 57, receipts increased to just $309,000, an average per establishment of $5,421.

Staff Reporter

Susan Elizabeth Shepard lived in Missoula from 2008 to 2011 before returning in 2017 to work at the Independent. She is also a two-time resident of Austin, TX, and Portland, OR, with an interest in labor, music and sports. @susanelizabeth on Twitter.

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