Uber concerns taxi services

HALEY DONWERTH | Evergreen reporter

Some local taxi owners and drivers voiced concerns at a public forum last week about a proposed change to the background-check process for taxicab licensing, saying it could lead to potential safety issues.

The Pullman Police Advisory Committee, in association with the League of Women Voters, held the forum last week regarding a proposed amendment to the taxicab-licensing ordinance, allowing for Social Security number based background checks similar to Uber’s.

With this increased flexibility, Uber would be able to expand its services in Pullman, according to the news release about the forum.

Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins told the Evergreen in January that community safety is the priority, and he does not feel that Social Security background checks are a good way to identify someone positively.

Fingerprint background checks through the FBI will include all relevant identifying information, including criminal arrests, charges and disposition of cases, according to the law dictionary, while Social Security-based background checks cannot access those FBI records, according to the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.

Olympia and Kennewick have already made similar ordinance changes to allow Uber to operate within their city limits.

According to Pullman’s current taxicab licensing ordinance, before operating, all drivers must apply to the city for a taxicab operator’s license and/or a taxicab owner’s license.

During the public forum, several community members, including taxi service owners and taxi drivers, voiced their disapproval of the possible ordinance change.

Pro Cab owner Mary Torrence said she questioned Uber’s ability to deal with problems as soon as they happen. When one of her cab drivers was caught carrying a gun in one of her cabs, Torrence said she let him go immediately. Now, she said, he drives for Uber.

However, Keith Curran, a potential Uber driver, said the Social Security background checks are a more efficient approach, and he doesn’t think it will impact safety for riders in Pullman.

Jason Parsley, a driver for College Cabs, said prior to the forum he does not have any issue with Uber operating in Pullman, he just wants them to be properly licensed.

“I believe that drivers who utilize the Uber app, the Uber network, should have to be licensed with their taxicab license just like any cab driver in Pullman does,” Parsley said.

He said while the background check Uber uses is “more thorough … in certain ways,” as far as he is aware, no in-person identification verification is done.

He said complete background checks for taxi services are important, especially in a town like Pullman where much of the population consists of vulnerable young adults who may have been drinking or are unfamiliar with vehicles for hire, such as Uber.

Uber should be requesting drivers to provide proof to corporate they have obtained a taxi license before they are allowed to start driving, since they are aware this is the law in Pullman, Parsley said.

College Cabs manager Ceara Maxwell said she has no problem with Uber either and that they’re just like any other taxi company coming into town. The problem, she said, is the Uber drivers come not knowing or thinking they aren’t able to get taxi licensed.

Regulation of unlicensed drivers is also an issue in Pullman, she said, and they have tried reporting the Uber drivers for being unlicensed. The police were upset by this, she said, and told College Cabs it wasn’t their job to regulate that.

“I asked them specifically, ‘What are you doing to regulate it?’ ” Maxwell said, “and they really don’t have any answer for me.”

Pullman Police officials were not available to comment.

Maxwell said if Uber drivers don’t need licenses, she feels College Cabs drivers should be able to get a refund for the taxi licenses they bought.

Uber drivers are still operating legally through Uber’s rules, Maxwell noted, they just aren’t operating legally as a taxi service in the city of Pullman.

Uber spokesperson Nathan Hambley said it is not currently possible for Uber to operate in Pullman, though they do not believe that transportation network companies, like themselves, are subject to the Pullman taxicab licensing regulations.

“We’re currently working with the [Washington] Legislature to pass a statewide ridesharing regulatory framework that would create a consistent set of regulations for drivers, riders and cities throughout Washington,” Hambley said.

Uber also remains open to exploring city-level regulations which would allow Uber to operate in Pullman, he said.

The discussion on the possible ordinance change will continue at the next Pullman Police Advisory Committee meeting on April 10.

Editor’s note: This article has been revised to reflect that Mary Torrence is the owner of Pro Cab, not College Cabs.

It has also been revised to reflect a taxicab driver’s correct last name. It is Jason Parsley, not Omache.