Despite protests from taxi operators and the members of the city's Traffic and Transportation Commission, the San Francisco company that coordinates ride-for-hire drivers through online transactions will continue to be excused from Oklahoma City cab regulations through this spring.
Oklahoma City Police Capt. Brian Williford, who works with the traffic commission, reported that Uber drivers will however face ticketing if they continue to use reserved taxi parking spaces.
Roger Andrews, general manager of Oklahoma City's Yellow Cab, reported a spot reserved for taxi drivers was recently used by an Uber driver. Taxi drivers are ticketed if they park in metered spots, and are restricted to the taxi spots taken by the Uber driver.
“Was he written a ticket?” Andrews asked. “No, he was not. He was asked to leave, but not ticketed. I don't understand why the city says everybody else has to abide by these ordinances, but these people from San Francisco, Germany and the Netherlands come in and they don't have to follow the law.”
Williford responded that police have been advised not to ticket Uber drivers until city attorneys work with city staff on a potential ordinance change that will be submitted to the Oklahoma City Council in April.
He said the officers who excused the Uber driver from a ticket for using a reserved taxi spot were unfamiliar with issues surrounding the operation.
“In the future, we will enforce and write a ticket in that situation whether they are Uber or not,” Williford said.
Pooneet Kant, who is based in Chicago but also rents space at a co-working collaborative along Oklahoma City's Film Row, responded that his company doesn't promote or discourage drivers from using taxi spots.
“I appreciate that if these are taxi spots, Uber is not a taxi company,” Kant said. “The drivers do not work for Uber. They are using our technology. We don't control the partners who drive in our system, when they want to drive, whether they accept rides, it's at their discretion.”
Kant said Uber is enjoying a thriving business since it launched in Oklahoma City, but he declined to disclose any details about ridership or complaints.
City officials report they are looking at California ordinances applying to Uber as a potential model for ordinance changes locally.
“We look forward to working with the city and regulators,” Kant said. “Uber is obviously a technology company, there have been a lot of reactions to it. As with any new company, there will be some friction.”
Andrews said Uber is using its application to “muddy the waters” about its ongoing illegal operation, and that taxi operators have the same applications and websites.
“Uber has been operating illegally in Oklahoma City for five months,” Andrews said. “We could pretend to be a booking agency to avoid this ordinance like they are. But it would be a pretension, not the truth.”
Traffic and Transportation commissioners agreed with Andrews, voicing their own frustration with the city staff declining to enforce current vehicle-for-hire ordinances against Uber drivers.
They noted that the city's monthslong suspension of enforcement coincides with controversies nationwide that include claims of price gouging by Uber, a driver accused of hitting a family on a San Francisco crosswalk, killing a 6-year-old girl, and reports of drivers suing Uber over disputed fares.
Traffic and Transportation Commission Chairman Walter Kula Jr. told fellow members at their meeting Friday they may need to draft a request to the City Council to speed up resolution of the dispute.
“The displeasure from the commission is that it's been three months we've known about this, we've asked for a position, we've yet to receive it,” Kula said. “Nothing has been done in three months. The first time we talked about it and asked for the city to send out a letter to say stop what you're doing and come see to see if you can do it. This is unacceptable. We think it's in violation.”
Uber recruits local drivers willing to use their vehicles to provide ride-for-hire services to customers who summon and pay for rides through the smartphone app.
The issue is whether Uber and companies like it are required to meet the same licensing requirements as traditional ride-for-hire companies. In the Uber app's service agreement with customers, the company contends it is a technology company with an app and not a transportation service.
The company contends it acts only as an intermediary to link customers with transportation providers, even though Uber collects credit card information from customers that is kept on file and used to pay for rides. Uber retains a percentage of the fares. Uber drivers do not use marked cars or register with the city, while traditional ride-for-hire taxi drivers are subject to extra inspections, fees, insurance requirements and registration. The New York Times recently reported Uber has operations in 60 cities and is valued at $4 billion.