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Regulatory Debate Over Uber Reaches An End In Kansas City

Matt Hodapp

The Kansas City Council voted Thursday in favor of a ride-hiring ordinance that Uber says will force them to suspend operations in Kansas City. The adopted legislation marks the end of Kansas City's long regulatory debate with ride-hiring companies. 

Spokespeople for Uber have re-titled the legislation an "anti-technology ordinance" and Uber's general manager for Kansas City, Andy Hung, says it creates a model that won't work for drivers.

"When other cities have tried this kind of approach, we have seen a 70 percent reduction in drivers that join the system, which means we don't have enough drivers to serve riders, and then we can't operate," says Hung.

Uber claims that the individual licensing process created by the ordinance places a prohibitive financial burden on part-time drivers. This licensing process includes a $100 vehicle permit fee (lowered from the original $250) and a series of exams and applications that Uber says could cost driver $280 in total. 

The Regulated Industries Division in Kansas City, which supervises transportation companies for public safety, is supported through these fees rather than placing the costs on the taxpayer.

Mayor Sly James pushed back against accusations that this ordinance is an attempt to slow technological innovation in the city. In a series of heated comments, James expressed frustration that Uber has been less than cooperative in reaching an agreement that works for everyone.

"What it comes to Uber, the refrain that we have heard from them consistently is, we will not accept any of this, nothing," said James.

Uber representative Brooke Anderson issued a statement expressing disappointment with the city's decision.

"By trying to squeeze ride sharing into antiquated regulations, the city council has effectively eliminated a safe and reliable transportation option, making Kansas City one of the few cities left in the nation without Uber," said Anderson.

Uber has also threatened to leave Kansas due to legislation passed in Topeka concerning insurance coverage and background checks. A bill awaiting Gov. Brownback's signature would force Uber drivers to carry insurance coverage whenever they have the app turned on, not only when they are providing a ride. 

The ride-hiring company has argued that these insurance requirements would be too costly for drivers and would force the company to suspend service in the Sunflower State. Supporters of Uber have inundated the email accounts of Kansas legislators with complaints at the request of the company.  

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