Jefferson City regulations don't allow for transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber, but an upcoming special occasion prompted the company to ask for an exception.
Representatives of Uber, the smartphone app-based ride-hailing service, have approached city officials about providing free rides on Inauguration Day, Jan. 9, despite not meeting the city's requirements for vehicle-for-hire businesses.
"We are working with the city council and are excited about the opportunity this presents for Uber drivers in Jefferson City," spokesperson Andy Hung confirmed in an emailed statement.
The City Council will consider a bill at its meeting Tuesday night that would accommodate Uber's request and others like it.
The bill, sponsored by 2nd Ward Councilman Rick Mihalevich, would authorize the city administrator to issue a temporary business permit for a ride-hailing business to offer free services.
"It's very temporary — only 24 hours and in just special situations," city attorney Ryan Moehlman said.
Jefferson City's vehicle-for-hire ordinance does not have provisions specifically for ride-hailing services, meaning TNCs would have to meet the taxicab regulations. Taxi companies must operate 24/7, keep at least three four-door vehicles road ready, and identify taxis with signage on doors and uniformity among vehicles, among other requirements contrary to the TNC business model, which employs drivers as independent contractors using their own vehicles.
The proposed bill was circulated Friday afternoon as a substitute for the original draft circulated in City Council members' meeting packets the previous day.
The first version of the bill would have amended the city code's definition of "vehicle for hire" to specifically exclude "motor vehicles used for ride-sharing services in which no end user of ride-sharing services is charged in any manner for such service."
That would have kept free ride-hailing services from falling under the vehicle-for-hire regulations, but it also would have allowed any TNC to offer free services at any time, not just Uber on Inauguration Day.
By creating provisions only for temporary licenses, the currently proposed bill allows for the city administrator to require certain conditions be met, such as contact information for a representative of the TNC in case of an emergency and a description of the TNC owner's insurance.
The bill summary notes officials in the city's law department remain concerned about the perennially discussed public safety aspects of TNCs — insurance requirements, vehicle inspections and driver background checks. While the city's vehicle-for-hire ordinance lays out specific requirements in these areas for taxicab drivers, a ride-hailing service operating under a temporary permit would fall outside them.
"The city would in essence be relying on minimum safety regulations imposed by the state on all drivers and vehicles (i.e., auto insurance and vehicle safety inspection requirements) and whatever requirements private ride-sharing application companies like Uber require from their drivers," the bill summary notes.
Those public safety concerns account for one reason some cities hesitate to amend their vehicle-for-hire regulations for TNCs. When Jefferson City considered doing so in September 2015, city officials also expressed concerns about how ride-hailing services' presence would affect the city's only taxicab company's profitability and ability to operate 24/7.
Tom Landwehr, owner of Checker Cab, told the News Tribune on Friday he does not oppose the temporary permit proposition in this situation.
"I support Uber getting a temporary permit to help during a particularly busy time with the inauguration because it's in the best interest of the city," Landwehr said, noting Checker Cab's 12 vehicles cannot sufficiently serve the thousands of visitors anticipated Jan. 9 in the Capital City.
Uber is supporting legislation to go before Missouri's General Assembly in 2017 that would allow for wider use of TNCs across the state. Currently there are nine lobbyists registered to represent Uber Technologies in Missouri.