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Rebecca Lohmann: Springfield could become the transportation network company model for Missouri.
Rebecca Lohmann: Springfield could become the transportation network company model for Missouri.

City ‘Uber ordinance’ could shape state regulations

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A pair of transportation network company ordinances introduced at last night’s Springfield City Council meeting could become the standard for regulations statewide for such ride-hailing companies as Uber, according to a spokeswoman.

The ordinances would extend an effort since March to open Missouri's third-largest city to ride-sharing companies, including San Francisco-based Uber. Key changes to the proposed regulations include issuing permits to TNCs, taxi companies and airport-limousine services instead of issuing permits to drivers. TNCs would have to cover $1 million in insurance for death, bodily injury and property damage while drivers are working, and the age allowed for drivers would be 18 instead of 21.

Councilman Ken McClure said language in the Springfield regulations mimics what was written earlier this year for Senate Bill 497, a Jefferson City initiative designed to open Missouri’s business doors to Uber and other ride-sharing services.

Rebecca Lohmann, a spokeswoman for Uber out of Columbia, said approval of Springfield's regulations could create up to 10,000 new jobs in Missouri if lawmakers follow suit. Uber representatives have targeted Springfield, Jefferson City, St. Charles and St. Joseph as new Missouri markets. It currently operates in Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia.

“We're excited for Springfield to be a model for the state when we seek a statewide bill,” Lohmann said.

Britton Jobe, an attorney with Neal & Newman LLP in Springfield, told council members at last night's public hearing that Uber represents a benchmark for the city as local businesses work to attract and keep young professionals. Jobe, who spoke at City Hall in favor of new TNC rules in March, said he's glad city leaders took the time to rework their proposed regulations, but a sense of urgency to allow such 21st century business models in Springfield has only escalated since then.

“I want Springfield to stand out for what it offers, not what it lacks,” Jobe said.

Stephanie Bryant, dean of the College of Business at Missouri State University, said new rules allowing TNCs to operate in Springfield signal to local college students the city is a progressive community where they can put down roots.

However, among the 11 speakers, four taxi drivers and operators expressed concerns over the new rules and the threat of competition from TNCs. Rick Benz, an operator with Springfield Yellow Cab Co. Inc., said handing background checks over to transportation companies is a bad idea.

Neal Petersen, also an operator with Yellow Cab, said while he thinks Uber and other TNCs could cost jobs and money, he is not opposed to the regulatory changes, which he said have hindered staffing efforts.

“I'm not against the ordinance changes. We've been asking for that for several years now at Yellow Cab. I have five cabs and I've been short four drivers for about eight months. I've been putting ads out, but because of the way things are, it's been slowly killing us,” Petersen said. “It takes two weeks to two months to get a cab license right now and people have to put out $178 out of their own pockets.”

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