Fayetteville: Uber services against law

FAYETTEVILLE -- City officials aren't rolling out the welcome mat for Uber, a ride-sharing company that uses smartphones to connect drivers with people seeking rides as an alternative to traditional taxis. It announced Wednesday that it's operating in Fayetteville.

City Attorney Kit Williams said Uber, or any similar business such as Lyft, will be in violation of a city ordinance regulating taxicabs if they start operating in the city.

"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."

Williams said Uber and Lyft aren't licensed to do business in the state and have no offices here, so there's no one to sue if something goes wrong. Both companies use drivers who use their personal vehicles to drive customers.

Arkansas cities have broad powers to regulate taxis. Fayetteville requires a permit, which Uber hasn't applied for, along with special equipment and identification of taxis and commercial liability insurance to protect riders. The city also requires taxi drivers to apply for permits and prove they have proper licenses. Drivers must undergo background checks, and taxis must be inspected annually to assure they're safe and sanitary.

Williams sent a letter July 16 to Lyft and Uber outlining the city's concerns, particularly concerning insurance. He said Uber claims to have a temporary liability policy to cover drivers, but Williams said he has seen no proof that such a policy exists.

"The City wishes to ensure the established record of safety and responsibility of our properly licensed taxi cabs is not undermined by uninspected, possibly uninsured and unsafe casual drivers for hire just so you can reap windfall profits from afar," Williams wrote. "Please do not attempt to operate or solicit or help drivers for hire to operate within the City of Fayetteville."

Earlier this summer, Little Rock's city attorney sent a letter to the companies telling them that operating without taxicab permits would be illegal. This month, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola told city directors that Uber wants to work with the city on changing its transportation code to include "ride-sharing" services.

Information for this article was contributed by Chelsea Boozer of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 08/31/2014

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