The running regulatory battle between Kansas City and Uber stands poised to erupt again over rules not yet 15 months old.
In April 2015, both sides settled on the city’s current ordinance, which won unanimous City Council approval. The city began issuing its purple vehicle stickers last July, allowing residents and visitors to know the driver and vehicle had city approval.
The deal also allowed Uber drivers to work for 30 days under an orientation period without getting a city driver’s certificate or a vehicle permit. No purple sticker.
A year later, the city official over regulated industries wants to get rid of the 30-day orientation period.
“That will be my recommendation,” said Jim Ready, manager of the city’s Regulated Industries Division, which oversees taxis and ride services such as Uber.
His complaint is that the 30-day program presents a danger.
He said it allows a driver who skips the regulatory process and who has stopped working for Uber or a taxi service to still pull up at a popular venue — he offered Kauffman Stadium as an example — and “hustle trips” because they “know the system.”
A consumer might ask for proof that a driver in a personal vehicle is legitimate, and the driver could say he or she is in the 30-day orientation period and doesn’t need a certificate yet.
Ready said his office finds such illegal operations regularly and wants to stop them.
“We’ve got to do something about getting rid of the driver orientation program,” he said. “We can’t have this nondocumented driver out in the city at any time.”
Ready said the city would seek input from the industry and public comment on potential regulation changes later this summer. The city’s ordinance called for a review of the regulations after one year.
“I’ve got some thoughts on how we can make this feasible,” Ready said.
Lauren Altmin, with San Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc., said the ride-hailing company would consider the ordinance and work with the city on proposed changes.
Bill George, owner of Yellow Cab, zTrip and 10/10 Taxi in the Kansas City area, said he would participate in the review. He said the 30-day orientation is not a good policy.
Uber had failed earlier this year to override Kansas City’s regulations, and any community’s regulations, through the Missouri legislature. It backed a bill that would have established a statewide standard.
Altmin said Kansas City’s regulations present a burden to drivers who want to earn a flexible income through Uber. She said the 30-day orientation was included to reduce the burden on first-time drivers.
Uber’s driver count in Kansas City and throughout Missouri has suffered because of varied municipal regulations that impede Uber’s ability to attract drivers, Altmin said. She said Uber quickly met a similar 10,000-driver goal in Ohio after the legislature there enacted statewide regulations that had nullified municipal ordinances, including one in Columbus.
“We want to reduce the red tape in front of individual drivers and make sure that it’s easy for Missourians who want to, to earn a flexible income,” Altmin said.
Uber officials had said it had targeted adding 4,000 drivers in the Kansas City area as part of the statewide goal of 10,000 drivers. The company did not provide a driver count, but Altmin said Uber works with thousands of drivers in the area and handles thousands of rides each month.
Kansas City, as of June 18, had issued driver certificates to 1,387 Uber drivers.
Ready said 2,532 had applied, but many of them failed to complete the certificate process as required in 60 days. The city sends letters to applicants after 30 days and again after 60 days. So far, 319 applicants have been rejected and 670 have gotten letters for not having completed the process.
Meanwhile, Uber drivers with all the permits say they’re not always getting the treatment they should despite meeting the city’s standards.
Jess Buck has earned extra money by making more than 1,000 trips as an Uber driver since February. Early last month, however, he was turned away on a busy weekend in the city’s Westport district.
Buck’s vehicle displays the city’s purple sticker. He has a driver’s certificate and the vehicle permit as required.
Still, Buck, 30, of Kansas City, said a Kansas City police officer barred him from picking up Uber customers at Westport late one weekend but allowed taxi drivers ready access to pick up riders. It cost him at least two fares, and he posted an account of the incident on Reddit.
“I made as big of a stink as I could, and I haven’t had that issue again,” Buck said. “It was a very big problem that night.”
Uber’s Altmin said she had not heard of the incident or similar problems.
The Kansas City Police Department said its policy is to have drivers wait at specific intersections and for customers to come to the vehicles. It was unable to look into the complaint without the officer’s name, which Buck could not provide. Police often work privately to provide security in Westport and other venues.