City Council passes Uber regulations

Uber officials say the new regulations may reduce the number of potential drivers.

Uber drivers in Columbia will now have to obtain chauffeur’s licenses, complete background checks conducted by city officials and have their cars inspected by Columbia police after City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Monday to implement the new regulations.

The ordinance applies to all companies like Uber, which City Council called Transportation Network Companies.

Mayor Bob McDavid was absent for the voting.

Despite their disapproval of the ordinance, Uber said they will be complying with city regulations.

"We will work to comply, but antiquated approaches like this inevitably break down the businesses’ model and will result in a decrease in reliability for Columbia residents to find a safe, hassle-free ride when they need it most,” Uber spokesperson Jaime Moore said in an email.

Uber and city officials have had a difficult relationship since the ridesharing company started operating in Columbia last October. City officials asked Uber in December to stop operating until regulations could be put in place. However, Uber continued to operate and five drivers were given citations.

Part of the motivation behind the new ordinance was to create a level playing field between the taxicab companies and TNCs. City officials conducted surveys and met with local taxicab companies to determine what kind of regulations they would like to be put in place.

The ordinance requires Transportation Network Operators to possess a valid Missouri chauffeur’s license. It also regulates fees for TNCs and drivers for taxicab companies to maintain healthy competition.

Other main points of the ordinance include requiring TNCs to apply for a business license and to provide a million-dollar liability insurance policy.

Taxicab insurance policies are mandated by the state of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Transportation requires insurance for at least $50,000 in property damage resulting from an accident.

“The proposal includes a requirement for TNCs to provide $1 million of liability coverage, which is 20 times what is required for vehicles for hire in Columbia,” Uber Public Policy Associate Carla Jacobs said.

The city, however, was told by Uber that there was already had a million-dollar liability insurance policy in place, which was their reasoning behind the decision, Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.

Moore said it’s unfortunate taxicab companies were able to dictate the outcome of regulation on ridesharing in Columbia.

“This ordinance imposes requirements above and beyond local taxi rules in an effort to keep us out of the market and does nothing to further rider or driver safety,” Moore said in an email.

The ordinance also requires that the city conducts background checks on each operator as well as safety inspections of operator vehicles.

The city will be collecting a fee from Uber to cover any additional costs if they have to hire more employees to fulfill the background check and vehicle inspection requirements.

Uber’s background check process uses a third party provider to check federal, county and multi-state records going back seven years, Jacobs said.

Then the process cross-checks the national sex offender registry and driving records obtained from state departments of motor vehicles, Jacobs said. A Social Security number trace is also conducted to ensure the check includes all locations of residents within the previous seven years.

Meanwhile, the city’s process does not scan for crimes committed in other states if a resident has lived in Missouri five years or more.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said he believes Uber is not conducting their background checks and vehicle inspections are they claim they are.

Uber will continue to run background checks, as they believe they’re more thorough than what the city proposed, Jacobs said.

“Since Uber’s policies go above and beyond the requirements included in the current proposal, the city is requiring drivers to spend time and money to go through processes that are duplicative and add no safety assurances to the public,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said because vehicle inspections would be conducted by Columbia police officers rather than certified mechanics, as Uber’s regulations previously required, the ordinance would lower their standard of safety.

“We feel police officers have other responsibilities that have a priority over inspection that can be performed by an actual mechanic,” Jacobs said.

The city currently gives drivers the option of receiving inspections on Thursdays only and only by appointment.

“Since many TNC drivers drive part-time while also working another full-time job, the option of one day a week during traditional working hours will not provide them sufficient opportunity to meet this requirement,” Jacobs said.

The potential driver would need to go to wherever the city decides to conduct background checks, while before they could complete the application process entirely at home.

Jacobs said in markets where in-person applications are required, Uber has seen reduction in the number of drivers that apply. Having the flexibility to apply whenever the potential driver is available, including in the middle of the night or on their lunch break, is more appealing for those who consider applying, Jacobs said.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, however, said she finds none of the regulations burdensome.

“I don’t know why it would be such an inconvenience for someone looking for optional employment (to require in-person applications), when I think many of us have done so when we’re seeking other employment opportunities,” Nauser said.

Jacobs said typically cities set requirements but Uber is responsible for fulfilling them.

“In cities that have more hands-on application processes, we see a significant drop in the number of drivers that complete those processes,” Jacobs said.

MU sophomore Brandon Fredman doesn’t have a car in Columbia. He said he uses Uber about twice per week.

“I really do need it, personally,” Fredman said. “It, in the past, got me to and from work when the buses are not running.”

Fredman said he has tried several taxicab companies in Columbia but prefers Uber.

“Sometimes I’ve been stuck waiting for taxis for over an hour,” Fredman. “I’ve had several safety issues; I swear I’ve ridden with a drunk taxi driver.”

Fredman said he feels Uber drivers are held more accountable than taxi drivers, as the passenger is sent some of their personal information.

Freshman Keodara Seifert, however, feels otherwise. She said she used Uber as transportation to the mall with a friend and was unaware Uber was operating illegally at the time.

“It was kind of sketchy because it was an older man,” Seifert said. “He had a truck of some sort and it kind of smelled very smoky. But the taxi … was very clean with leather seats and all of that. (It was) very nice.”

She said she believes taxicabs had more stringent regulations. Having the city oversee background checks and vehicle inspections will help Uber provide safer rides, Seifert said.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala believes the city has an obligation to make sure that citizens receive safe rides.

“Respect is really a two-way street,” Skala said. “I’ll respect Uber when Uber respects this legislative body and the decisions that we make.”

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