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Springfield, MO

‘Uber ordinance’ may open market to new competition

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Representatives of popular ride-hailing venture Uber are waiting for a green light to come to the Queen City and other markets in Missouri. They may soon have their chance.

First tabled in March, then again in September, Springfield City Council reintroduced on Oct. 31 a pair of transportation network company ordinances that could become the statewide regulatory standard for technology-infused providers such as Uber.

The ordinances would 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 allowable age for drivers would be 18 instead of 21.

“We’re excited for Springfield to be a model for the state when we seek a statewide bill,” said Rebecca Lohmann, a spokeswoman for Uber out of Columbia.

Lohmann 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.

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 services.

Some members of the local business community are eager for the app-based service to come to town.

Britton Jobe, an attorney with Neale & Newman LLP in Springfield, told council members during the public hearing that Uber represents a benchmark for the city as local businesses work to attract and keep young professionals. Jobe, also 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 only has 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.

“I think it is far and away time to have the ride-sharing service in Springfield,” she said of Uber, which serves 242 markets in North America, according to Uber.com.  

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

After the meeting, Benz said he and a friend filled out applications for Uber online and were accepted to drive for the company in a matter of minutes.

“How are they doing background checks in 3 minutes?” he said, adding youngsters with juvenile records could fall through the cracks.

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

“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 (pay) $178 out of their own pockets.”

Lohmann said Uber could be operating in Springfield within a few weeks of council approving the proposed rules – once background checks on drivers cleared. Other Uber representatives did not return requests for information about the length of that process. According to online driver resource IDriveWithUber.com, Uber partners typically can hit the road within a week of submitting their applications.

Council is scheduled to vote Nov. 14.

Joplin jail
Council unanimously passed a bill allowing its police department to contract with the city of Joplin to hold municipal prisoners.

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said the agreement would use $500,000 city administration set aside in May to cover costs associated with transporting inmates to area facilities with capacity to hold prisoners the overcrowded Greene County jail stopped accepting in April 2015.

“Ninety-nine percent of these folks are people who have failed to appear on warrants issued by a municipal judge, and they usually have failed to appear multiple times,” Williams said.

The department had spent $166,000 on transfers to Miller and Taney counties since May, Williams said.

The agreement approved unanimously by council would pay the city of Joplin $50 per prisoner per day, and with over $300,000 in transfer funds still available, Williams told council before the vote no additional money would be needed.

Cherry Street rezoning
Developer Jason Murray of Springfield Loft Apartments LLC seeks a rezoning of three buildings at 519-529 E. Cherry St. to spur redevelopment plans at the soon-available Harmony House shelter. Murray said he plans to invest $2 million to renovate the eastern-most building into 16 loft apartments and demolish the other two structures. He has no other immediate plans for the site. The proposed bill would change the adjoining lots to a center city district from a planned development.

Murray intends to purchase the property from Harmony House before the end of the year as the nonprofit transitions to its new location: the former America’s Best Value Inn at 3404 E. Ridgeview St.

Council is scheduled to vote Nov. 14.

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