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Uber to begin in the city

If Uber was a person and could wear a T-shirt, it might just say, “When Mom says no, go ask Grandma.”

A year and a half ago, Oxford aldermen made it very clear to Uber, the online ride company, that it was welcome to operate in Oxford if the company agreed to follow the city’s taxi ordinance. Several other cities in Mississippi sent Uber the same message.

So when the city said ‘no,’ Uber went and asked state legislators.

However, in April, Gov. Phil Bryant signed HB1381 into law, which puts the state’s Insurance Department in charge of regulating transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

Regulating service

Regulations of taxi services have been left to cities in Mississippi. Oxford worked with local cab drivers and taxi companies for months to create a local ordinance that required cab drivers to have background checks done, security cameras installed in vehicles and other safety measures.

The law requires each online transportation network company to pay a $5,000 yearly license fee and requires the driver or the company to have insurance covering the transportation of passengers. While carrying passengers, the driver would have to be insured for up to $1 million.

Transportation network companies also have to conduct criminal background checks on drivers and display a driver’s picture and license plate number online before a passenger is picked up.

The legislation goes into affect Friday. Representatives from Uber could not be reached this morning.

Uber is a technology company that connects riders and drivers using a smartphone application. Uber partners with existing transportation companies and independent contractors who use their personal vehicles to give rides. Riders use the Uber application to request a ride. Drivers in the area get the ride request on their phone and arrive at the listed address. Uber users see the name, photo and driver’s license of the driver and can see the car on a GPS map as it approaches their location. At the end of the trip, the rider’s credit card is automatically charged and a detailed trip receipt is emailed to them. Riders can also split the fees between more than one rider per trip.

Mayor concerned

Mayor Pat Patterson said he’s disappointed about the change.

“We’re concerned that we are charged to regulate our local industry but the state doesn’t want us to regulate Uber,” he said this morning. “We feel like safety standards that we consider so important for our residents and college kids could be compromised. We hope they do a good job in screening their drivers and protecting our citizens.”

Mixed reaction

The Oxford Police Department posted about Uber starting up in Oxford on Friday on its Facebook page Wednesday and the comments were mixture of residents thrilled at Uber coming to Oxford and some who felt the business would hurt local cab companies.

Kenneth Scanlon Jr., manager of Rock Star Taxi in Oxford, said he isn’t too worried about Uber coming to Oxford.

“With so many of their drivers getting arrested for criminal activity, I think they’ll eventually run themselves out of business,” Scanlon said. “We have to go through a police background check that they don’t have to go through to make sure citizens are safe. Uber bought themselves a politician.”

Rep. Jay Hughes said he supports Uber and is glad to have any business come to Mississippi; however, he voted against the bill.

“My objection has been and remains that if a company has enough money it can get laws passed in Mississippi to exempt them from the same laws that apply to everyone else and give them an unfair competitive advantage,” he said. “There is no difference between a taxi driver taking a stranger from point A to point B and an Uber driver taking the same passenger from point A to point B. However, because Uber spent millions with the right people in Jackson, they now have a special law just for them.  It must be nice, but is something most Mississippians do not have the opportunity to do.”

Uber spokeswoman Evangeline George said Uber will begin service at 4 p.m. Friday.

“Uber is excited to begin service in Oxford tomorrow at 4 p.m. – giving riders access to reliable transportation and offering flexible work opportunities for drivers,” she said. “As we head into Independence Day weekend, Uber will offer a safe alternative to drinking and driving after a night of celebrations.”