Ridesharing services bill passes through first committee hearing

Rep. Robert Cornejo chairs the House Committee on General Laws during a hearing on a proposed ridesharing law.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – App-based transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft are one step closer to operating in the Show Me State.

The House Committee on General Laws voted to approve a bill that would create statewide regulations for the companies on Tuesday night.

The night clearly belonged to supporters of Uber and Lyft, as more than a dozen people testified before the committee, compared to the one opponent who spoke.

Basil Rudawsky of St. Louis County and Yellow Cab argued that the regulations do not encourage fair competition, while also discriminating against people who cannot afford phones to access Uber or Lyft services.

The largest number of supporters seemed to come from St. Charles County, which strongly supports the bill, citing a demand for the services. Right now, Uber will drop clients off in St. Charles, but will not pick them up.

Under the bill, transportation network companies, or TNC’s, would be required to apply for annual permits from the Department of Revenue to do business in Missouri. They would also be required to meet and maintain the insurance coverage requirements.

The bill also sets out the requirements for criminal background checks, and the information concerning rates and fares to be displayed on its app or website.

Lawmakers had a number of questions for the bill sponsor on Tuesday night, namely the non-discrimination policies, data concerns, and especially about an amendment from the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Kirk Mathews, R-Eureka, as the amendment would establish protections for just Kansas City.

“The amendment provides that twice a year, Kansas City would have the right to a random audit of some TNC drivers to ensure compliance,” Mathews said. “It provides a $500 fine for each violation that might be found. It also cleans up language to ensure everyone understands that drivers are independent contractors (not employees).”

The committee members asked whether those protections should be extended to the entire state, which Mathews said he would be open to discussing.

Mathews cited a number of reasons for allowing TNC’s to operate in the state, one of the chief among them being jobs. But he also spoke about the benefits of enacting a statewide standard.

“There’s growing evidence that these companies can reduce drunk driving,” Mathews said. “TNC’s are providing mobility freedom to vision-impaired citizens, which some have described as life-changing.”

Uber currently operates in Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, and Columbia, but is looking to expand. They predict they’ll add about ten-thousand new Missouri drivers if the bill passes.

The popular ridesharing company made a splash in Jefferson City on Inauguration Day, reportedly giving more than 1,000 free rides.

After an hour of testimony, the committee approved the bill with a 12-1 vote, with Rep. Tracy McCreery being the one outstanding vote.

“I think we’re starting to get overwhelming support for the bill,” committee chairman Rep. Robert Cornejo said. “This bill takes away local ordinances that are not friendly to business, and sends a statement to the business community that we want to be open and encourage business.”

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