I got a response late last night from Fayetteville to an inquiry about plans for Uber to begin operations in the city this weekend, with an opening gimmick of free rides for people who use the cell phone app to order up car service.
Uber will not be welcome to operate without meeting regulatory requirements applied to taxis and drivers will be ticketed if they do so.
Correspondence about Uber in July made clear that the city believed the payment of money to drivers to transport people — no matter how Uber characterized the transaction — put the company under laws that regulate taxi services. Uber styles itself as a communications app that puts drivers with riders and takes a cut of the fare they charge. The letters from Fayetteville raise questions about lack of registration to do business in Arkansas, insurance, driver qualifications and other issues. It notes that efforts by Uber to operate in other cities outside regulatory requirements had met court roadblocks. July 16, City Attorney Kit Williams advised the company not to seek to hire drivers or operate in the city. (The letter also went to Lyft, another so-called ride-sharing service.)
Uber has apparently forged ahead without any change in status. The Northwest Arkansas newspapers wrote about the situation this morning. It couldn’t reach Uber (nor could I yesterday). But it made clear the city planned to ticket Uber drivers who operated in the city without permits. It quoted Kit Williams:
“If they try to operate, their drivers will almost certainly be ticketed by the police,” Williams said. “The app shows where the drivers are. It’s very difficult for them to operate totally in the shadows with this system.”
The city of Little Rock has notified Uber and Lyft of the need to have permits to operate here. Uber has indicated through intermediaries that it is open to some form of city oversight of the operation, though it is not yet clear how far it is willing to go in terms of the existing taxi ordinance. The subject is to come up at a City Board meeting in the near future. In Fayetteville as in Little Rock, taxi operators have objected to unregulated operation. Uber has taken different approaches around the country. In some places it has begun operating unilaterally and fought court actions. In others it has worked out operation under regulatory schemes.
Uber has targeted a number of college towns for its car service.