Three separate bills considered to regulate TNCs

Senate Bill 351, House Bill 792 and House Bill 781 all work to create a statewide set of regulations for Transportation Network Companies.
Photo Illustration.

After a rocky start in Columbia, ride-sharing company Uber’s operations in the city are finally stable and legal. But proposed legislation in Jefferson City may challenge local control and upset the regulations that city staff fought for.

Three separate bills in the Missouri House and Senate aim to impose state regulations on Transportation Network Companies, like Uber and Lyft, and give the Department of Transportation exclusive regulation of those companies. Senate Bill 351, House Bill 792 and House Bill 781 would undo city regulations in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia, and forbid cities from regulating TNCs in the future.

Columbia Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said state rules for TNCs would encroach upon charter cities’ right to form their own regulations.

“What’s been proposed through the bills in Jeff City would be a disservice to the 38 home-rule chartered cities in Missouri,” St. Romaine said. “Cities across the state are very unique and charters help secure the most effective operations in accordance with the will of citizens that the city serves.”

St. Romaine and his staff have been working to form those rules since Uber first began operation in Columbia in October 2014. The city asked Uber to refrain from charging for rides until staff could formulate regulations for TNCs, and when Uber drivers began charging, police officers issued citations to four drivers.

City Council approved regulations in February that require Uber drivers to obtain chauffeur's licenses, complete background checks monitored by city officials, have their vehicles inspected by the Columbia Police Department and comply with set fees.

The rules overlap with Uber’s internal checks, but they would be performed by city staff and police. Uber already requires multiple background checks, commercial insurance coverage and internal driver screenings.

According to information provided by the Columbia Department of Finance, four Uber drivers have been licensed by the city and are in full compliance with checks and fees.

“Since City Council passed ordinances that regulate companies like Uber, which we call TNCs, we have been very pleased that Uber has decided to comply with the ordinances,” St. Romaine said.

But Uber, which refers to itself as a technology, not a transportation company, would still prefer different local regulations.

"While the TNC license was filed last month, there is more work to do on the implementation of the regulations to ensure they are modern, safe and allow the ridesharing industry to grow,” an Uber spokesperson said. “We'll continue working with the city to reach common ground so that the processes for driver partners in Columbia are safe and streamlined."

Statewide regulations may offer Uber an opportunity to expand the territory its drivers cover and increase jobs in Missouri, without having to craft new rules in each municipality.

Uber currently operates smoothly in Columbia, but pulled out of Kansas City last week when Mayor Sly James approved fines and regulations that were steeper than the company wanted. Uber has suspended operations in St. Louis after clashes with the city’s Metropolitan Taxicab Commission.

“We are optimistic about a statewide framework that could create thousands of Missouri jobs,” the Uber spokesperson said. “We will continue working with state and local leaders to ensure ridesharing continues to grow across Missouri."

Sen. Kurt Schaefer’s, R-St. Louis, HB 351 would not require comprehensive background checks conducted by third parties, which Kansas City and Columbia currently require.

St. Romaine said Schaefer’s bill has not gone through a transparent process to determine what all of the stakeholders, from Uber riders to traditional taxi companies, desire.

St. Romaine, Third Ward councilman Karl Skala, Fourth Ward councilman Ian Thomas and Fifth Ward councilwoman Laura Nauser said they had not been contacted by Schaefer before the bill was proposed.

“Short of the final passage of a state statute, I think all of us on city council reject the idea that the state can impose its ideas on us, a charter city,” Skala said.

Schaefer did not respond to requests for comment.

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