Earlier this week whispers started circling that phone-based ridesharing service Uber was coming to Mobile, but while the rumors have some factual roots, it doesn’t seem like the program is ready to roll just yet.
An Uber representative told Lagniappe Tuesday the company is “actively exploring the Mobile market,” but it has no firm launch plans in place at this time. However, applications for Uber drivers in Mobile have popped up on the company’s website and in local job listings.
A post on the job aggregate website indeed.com shows Uber first listed inquiries about drivers in Mobile March 11. The ad was posted under the website’s section for independent contractors.
Founded in 2009, Uber connects people looking for rides with drivers in an area through a downloadable smartphone app. Despite being established and well received by consumers in 250 cities around the globe, the app has come under fire by both the taxi industry and public officials concerned about safety and regulations.
Uber also has a rocky history in Alabama, where last year in Tuscaloosa, tensions between the city and Uber escalated when officials refused to budge on requiring Uber drivers to acquire a chauffeur’s license and undergo vehicle inspections and additional background checks performed by the Tuscaloosa Police Department.
Eventually, the department arrested at least two drivers in an undercover sting operation, which ultimately resulted in Uber suspending its services from the city.
According to Uber’s website, it already requires its drivers to go through a “rigorous background check” — one examining arrest and automobile histories using local, state and federal records. In a statement on its blog, Uber said the company “works hard to ensure it’s connecting riders with the safest rides on the road.”
Still, some aren’t convinced Uber is doing a good enough job regulating itself.
State Rep. Margie Wilcox, owner of Yellow Cab of Mobile and Mobile Bay Transportation, compared the ridesharing service to “high-tech hitchhiking.” However, she said she doesn’t have a problem with Uber operating in Mobile, as long as they follow the same regulations as other cab companies.
Those regulations include criminal background checks and insurance for drivers, as well as a cap on how much riders can be charged, According to Wilcox. If Uber doesn’t fall in line with these regulations, Wilcox fears it would “create an uneven playing field.”
On its website, Uber claims it requires all of the traditional requirements for taxi operators with the exception of commercial insurance, which Wilcox said can be “quite expensive” for transportation services to obtain. Wilcox also said Yellow Cab drivers are regularly drug tested, though Uber drivers and other ridesharing services like Lyft claim they require similar drug and alcohol testing.
While there has been some discussion about possible state regulations of the service since the incidents in Tuscaloosa made headlines, Wilcox said she is not aware of any bill in the legislature that would affect Uber and has also not submitted one herself.
In statehouses across the country where lawmakers have considered sweeping regulations for Uber and similar digital services, reformists been fighting them every step of the way.
The company, valued at almost $40 billion, has also been sued by the city of Portland, banned in the Netherlands and New Delhi and has cases pending against its drivers in at least two other states, according to the New York Times.
As for Mobile, Chief Assistant Attorney Flo Kessler seemed to agree with Rep. Wilcox saying the city would “provide an even playing field” for all transportation companies, traditional or otherwise, if Uber should decide to launch in the Port City.
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