Uber Arrives in Columbia
Last Thursday, Uber launched its service in Columbia, Missouri. The innovative and rapidly expanding ridesharing company will start by offering free rides to residents while the company works out regulatory issues with the city government.
Uber and other similar ridesharing companies have the potential to efficiently improve transportation options in midsize cities like Columbia. Low population densities and dispersed development can make it difficult to provide useful transit options without wasting public resources on underutilized routes. But with market-based ridesharing companies like Uber, Columbia residents will have more ways to get around without owning a car simply through the increased utilization of the cars they already own.
As we noted in a previous blog post, Columbia’s antiquated for-hire vehicle ordinances were written to deal with taxis, limousines, and buses; how Uber would be classified is difficult to determine, much as was the case in Saint Louis and Kansas City. But while regulators in Missouri’s two largest cities have fought tenaciously to make ridesharing expensive or illegal, Columbia’s government seems to be interested in carving out a place for Uber, with some stipulations. One city official stated:
My main concerns are the insurance that Uber drivers carry, background checks conducted by Uber and the condition of the vehicles. . . . We are going to include regulations about those aspects in the agreement.
The same official indicated that regulatory changes would be ready in November.
If Columbia’s government can limit its regulations to safety concerns, and not control pricing and entry, residents will be able to benefit from the increased transportation options Uber and other ridesharing companies can provide. Whether Columbia ultimately will follow through, and choose innovation over regulation, remains to be seen.