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Uber's ride-for-hire service creates Oklahoma City controversy

by Randy Ellis Modified: November 1, 2013 at 6:00 pm •  Published: October 31, 2013

With a simple tweet, Oklahoma City Thunder basketball player Nick Collison has ignited an uproar among Oklahoma limo and cab companies and sent governmental regulators scrambling.

The furor is over Uber — a smartphone app-based ride-for-hire program that Collison tweeted he likes, but which has local limousine and cab company operators steaming.

Collison's tweet announced Uber's unofficial arrival in Oklahoma City two weeks ago. The company's official local launch was Wednesday.

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. Company officials say they take “numerous steps” to protect customers, including background checks for drivers.

Still, the outcry from competing cab and limo companies has been huge.

Charles Cotton, owner of V.I.P. Limousine Co. and president of the Oklahoma Limousine Association, faxed a consumer complaint to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt accusing Uber Technologies and its corporate investors of conspiring to operate an unlicensed ride-for-hire service in Oklahoma.

“There is no Oklahoma Corporation Commission licensing, which is required to operate any vehicle for hire on the streets and highways of Oklahoma,” Cotton complained. “These state providers have no license, improper insurance, no training, no drug testing of drivers, thus putting the public in harm's way.”

Joey Allen, the Oklahoma City general manager of a limousine service called Kings Worldwide Transportation, joined with Cotton in complaining to the Oklahoma City Traffic Commission last week.

“They're operating with an unlicensed car, with an unlicensed vehicle,” Allen told commissioners. “My 79-year-old mom and her 10-year-old Town Car could sign up for UberX this afternoon, and tomorrow she could be driving Kevin Durant.”

Allen told The Oklahoman that ride-for-hire companies are regulated for the protection of the public. To become licensed, rigorous vehicle inspections are required, proper insurance must be verified, and drivers must undergo background checks, driving record checks, drug and alcohol testing, and physicals, he said.

Allen said Uber and a similar company called Lyft have not gone through the necessary steps to become licensed in Oklahoma City.

License required?

Whether or not Uber and companies like it are actually required to be licensed could turn out to be a complex legal question.

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.

“For the avoidance of doubt: Uber itself does not provide transportation services and Uber is not a transportation carrier,” the company states in the service agreement.

Uber contends it only acts 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.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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