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Uber comes to Columbia, Columbia City Council wants new ordinances

Taxi or technology? That’s the question.

The City of Columbia is struggling to categorize and design regulations for Uber, a business that connects drivers and passengers through its smartphone application. Uber’s ride-sharing service made its debut in Columbia Thursday. 

The assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine thinks the city shouldn’t see Uber as a taxi company when it looks for regulations.

“Some of the taxi ordinances were written several decades ago,” he said. “In my opinion, attempting to modify our existing taxi ordinances or vehicle for hire ordinances to accommodate companies like Uber is very much like trying to put a square peg to a round hole. They just do not fit,” said St. Romaine. 

The city might create a new category of business operator to keep Uber under compliance. St. Romaine said it’s a case of city ordinances not being able to keep up with ingenuity of technology.

St. Romaine asked Uber officials to offer the service free for 30 days so it would not be operating illegally. The company has agreed to not charge for services for a week, giving the city staff some time to craft a temporary agreement for Columbia City Council to approve.

The temporary agreement will address basic issues like drivers’ background checks, insurance, vehicle condition inspections and licensing before finalizing a long-term agreement.

St. Romaine said they are looking at other cities’ ordinances to see what Uber has agreed to there.

The temporary agreement might be ready for the council meeting on the first Monday of November.

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