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Jackson’s regs offer a lift to ridesharing, but state action could override them

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By   /   February 12, 2016 / www.MississippiWatchdog.org

Uber and other networked transportation services won’t be leaving Jackson, Mississippi, after the City Council passed a regulatory ordinance this week that was friendlier to sharing-economy innovators than the original version.

Photo by Uber

NEW REGS: An ordinance to regulate network transportation services such as Uber and Lyft was passed by the Jackson City Council Tuesday.

Jackson is the first city in the state to regulate ridesharing providers such as Uber and Lyft, which use mobile apps to summon and pay for rides. And statewide regulations could be on the way if a pair of bills now wending their way through the Mississippi Legislature become law.

Related: The price of legalizing Uber, Lyft in Pennsylvania? A new tax

The ordinance requires networked transportation companies to pay a $5,000 registration fee and an annual fee of $500 to operate within Jackson city limits. Theoriginal ridesharing ordinance, which was tabled in November by the council’s Rules Committee, would have required drivers to be drug tested and fingerprinted by the Jackson Police Department. Those provisions were eliminated from the new ordinance, which will take effect in 30 days. The annual “operation” fee in the original ordinance was $2,500.

Ridesharing companies would undergo an application process, provide $1 million in minimal insurance coverage and allow the city the right to revoke a permit or suspend the licenses of individual drivers.

Related: Austin voters to decide on ridesharing regs

“We appreciate the time and effort the Jackson City Council put into developing a sensible, modern regulatory framework for ridesharing,” said Bill Gibbons, a spokesman for Uber. “We look forward to expanding access to safe rides, especially in areas underserved by traditional transportation options, and flexible economic opportunities for Jackson residents.”

While Uber was happy with the new regulations, several taxi drivers at the public hearing voiced concerns about the competition and the less-restrictive regulations governing the new kids in town. Jackson taxi drivers are governed by regulations that have essentially created a regulated monopoly for the city’s three cab companies.

Deluxe Cab driver Gene Sandifer said he took Jackson residents, for free, to polling places to vote for council president Melvin Priester Jr., and expected something in return.

“It’s a slap in the face today that we get this crap here,” Sandifer said. “This is a disgrace. We were working with you guys [the City Council], holding still, thinking you guys were going to do the right thing. It hasn’t happened. We have resources too. We know people just like you do. There will be recourse if this isn’t done right by us.”

Sandifer also suggested outsiders were invading the taxi drivers’ turf.

“We’re your constituents. When I see the Uber cars, I don’t see any with tags from Hinds County [where Jackson is located]. They’re all from [neighboring] Rankin County, coming into our city, making our money and putting us out of business,” he told the council.

Priester has said previously that the city will be looking at reforming the city’s 15-year-old taxi regulations and a draft ordinance is already in the works.

Jackson’s ordinance on networked transportation companies might not be on the books very long if the Legislature has its way.

Two bills in the House, HB1381 and HB1382, would establish statewide rules for ridesharing firms. HB1381 would require companies to apply to operate in the state, pay an annual license fee of $5,000 and require drivers to have insurance coverage of at least $1 million, mirroring the Jackson ordinance. It would also prohibit any municipality from forcing ridesharing services to apply for a license or pay any tax.  HB1382 echoes HB1381’s insurance requirement for drivers.

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