Will Regulations Keep Uber Out of Columbia?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently reported that Uber is considering expanding its service to Columbia, Missouri. While Uber’s entrance could provide improved for-hire vehicle service, Columbia’s outdated taxi regulations might keep the company out, to the detriment of city residents.
Uber, a transportation network company (TNC), is disrupting over-regulated taxi markets across the country, including Missouri. By using an app to connect passengers with drivers operating personal vehicles, Uber and TNCs like it have the potential to vastly increase the quantity and quality of affordable taxi service. Unfortunately, these business models run afoul of municipal taxicab regulations and entrenched cab industry opposition. Saint Louis and Kansas City have invoked Byzantine, competition-restraining regulations to restrain TNCs like Uber and Lyft.
Columbia’s for-hire vehicle regulations are not as onerous as those in Saint Louis or Kansas City. However, they might be just burdensome enough to make Uber’s entry difficult, if not impossible (especially if city officials are opposed to Uber). The city’s regulations are written to deal with taxis, limousines, and buses, not TNCs.
Based on the plain language of these ordinances, it is unclear which sections of Columbia’s city code would govern Uber. If Columbia officials classify Uber as a taxi service, the company would be required to have a phone dispatching service, taxi meters, vehicle color schemes, and a taxi light on top of every car. This would make Uber’s business model, which uses dynamic pricing (without meters) and utilizes its drivers’ private vehicles, noncompliant with existing regulations.
Likewise, Uber’s business model also would be impossible under Columbia’s limousine regulations, which require a limousine to charge a fixed fare from the airport or an hourly rate (with a charge of no less than one hour) for intra-city service.
Uber could fall into a nebulous “vehicle for-hire” regulatory category, which might allow the company to avoid the regulations listed above. However, Columbia does not appear to offer any type of business license for general livery service, so that needs clarification.
Columbia officials should consider altering their regulations, as other states have, so TNCs like Uber can provide service to city residents. Better yet, Columbia could reduce regulations so that those (be they Uber, Lyft, or other drivers) who pass background checks, pass vehicle inspections, and purchase proper insurance can offer Columbia residents a ride.