For those who travel out of state in large cities, the phrase “get an Uber” might be common language.
Due to regulations being taken in Jackson, it might become much more common. For those unfamiliar, Uber is a mobile ride hail company. In layman’s terms, it’s a taxi service that operates on a mobile platform. One downloads the app, inputs their destination and can select a number of people that will soon pick them up, take them to their destination and drop them off for a small fare.
The selling point with a company like Uber is that it operates through real people and their normal cars. Unlike traditional taxi services, there is no leaning out in the street to compete with others and no stepping into the road to flag down a car that may or may not stop. Uber cars are for-hire chaffeurs. They pay their fare and rate the driver, and their interaction is at an end. Uber operates all over the world, but in Mississippi they operate only in Oxford, Jackson and formerly the Gulfport-Biloxi area.
While Uber is thriving in other places, specific legislation is being taken to regulate the service due to the direct competition with traditional taxicab companies. According to Pacific Standard magazine, cab drivers working under traditional companies sometimes have to wait for years to receive a “medallion,” or a license to operate the cab. This license can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. CNN reported that the most recent price in New York City was $740,000, with an all time peak of over $1 million.
Some drivers are required to pass rigorous tests and in some places are allowed to work only the one job. Compare that to Uber’s requirements which state drivers must have a background check, three years driving experience, an in-state license with registration and sometimes insurance for the state the driver operates in.
Jackson is one of those places passing legislation to regulate Uber. Previously, the city allowed Uber to operate under their own supervision, the city council drafted an ordinance in Dec. 2015 that would require drug testing and fingerprinting for all drivers along with a $5,000 registration fee to apply for a license of operation in the city and a $500 annual fee. The new ordinance has removed the provision for drug testing and fingerprinting, but retains the need for Uber to pay a registration and annual fee. According to the Clarion Ledger, the council hopes that the new ordinance will allow Uber to function while prioritizing the safety of the riders.
“We’ve taken them out of a grey area and given them a specific lane,” said Councilman Melvin Priester, author of the revised ordinance. “The lack of drug testing is uniform. That is something I wasn’t aware of when I initially proposed this ordinance.”
Forbes reported that almost 90 percent of passengers using Uber were picked up in less than 10 minutes, compared to less than 40 percent for those using taxicabs. With the amount of reliable public transportation in Hattiesburg still low, the possibility of Uber is an exciting one.
In some areas, Uber has even had an effect on decreasing drunk driving. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, alcohol- related fatalities in cars counted for 34.3 percent of all traffic deaths in 2015. In California, according to the California State Highway Patrol, once Uber began operating, the number of alcohol-related crashes for drivers under 30 dropped by 6.5 percent. In 2015, Uber compiled a report with MADD detailing the decrease in drunk driving and alcohol-related accidents in places they serviced.
“It would be nice to know that people had a sober driving option readily available to them all the time rather than on weekends or during holidays,” said Victoria Sappington, a Southern Miss alumnus.
While Jackson is cooperating with the service, it still remains a difficult full move into Mississippi. In 2014, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported that Police Chief Joey East of Oxford said he considers Uber to be an unlicensed taxi company and as such could not operate in the city.
In July 2015, Uber was forced to withdraw from the Gulfport-Biloxi area due to ordinances passed by the Harrison County Motor Vehicle for Hire Authority, commenting that if the laws were changed, it would be open to working with local authorities.
A spokesperson from Uber said the company will likely be able to work with the regulations passed in Jackson but was unable to comment on a possible expansion into Hattiesburg.