East Lansing taxis view Uber as a "slap in the face"

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A taxi stand in East Lansing.

A taxi stand in East Lansing.

By Megan McDonnell
Entirely East Lansing

The Greater Lansing Taxi Authority is working on an agreement with rideshare service Uber to allow it to offer its services within the Greater Lansing area.

The authority is the only one in the state and is relatively new being only one year old, according to city clerk and authority member Marie Wicks.

According to the City of East Lansing website, the Authority is currently responsible for regulating and licensing taxicab companies and drivers in East Lansing and Lansing.

“When we first started to develop the authority… Uber wasn’t even really a part of the picture at the time. We didn’t really contemplate anything that we would be dealing with,” said Wicks.

According to Mayor Nathan Triplett, the authority is working with Delhi and Delta Township, as well as Michigan State University, to join and create a mass regulation for taxi and rideshare services.

“I met with Mike White, the general manager of Uber, about two weeks ago,” said Triplett. “We’ve been in frequent contact not just about the local legislation here, but on the pending legislation at the State Capitol, which would have a significant impact on our regulations.”

Since January, two pieces of legislation have been introduced at the state level. Rep. Tim Kelly introduced House Bill 4032 in early January, and Sen. Rick Jones introduced Senate Bill 0184 on March 5, as attempts l to regulate rideshare companies.

The bills created a lot of concern over social media.

“I know that a lot of people got these emails from Uber,” said Wicks. “…And I saw it on Facebook, that if this law passes, Uber will be outlawed in Michigan. That’s not true, that’s just simply not true.”

Triplett said that neither bill is ideal for the authority.

“The House version, as it exists right now, will effectively wipe out everything that we’ve done here locally,” said Triplett. “Because it will require uniform state legislation, it would give locals no say of how ridesharing companies, or in the legislation they’re called ‘transportation network companies,’ or how they work.

“So clearly, we’re opposed to that.”

Despite the work of the Authority and the current Legislature, not everyone is in favor of Uber.

John Clark, owner of Clark’s Cab taxi service, said that allowing Uber to operate in East Lansing is like a “slap in the face” for him and other taxi services.

Clark said that although the Authority may be making Uber do “a few things,” it’s simply not enough.

“Our cab drivers have to take drug tests, do background checks and get fingerprinted all out of pocket,” said Clark. “Uber doesn’t.”

Mitchell Karker, taxi driver for College Cab, agrees that Uber is getting off easier by not being forced to pay the same fees as taxi services.

“They don’t require as much insurance as we do,” said Karker. “We have to have a $1 million dollar insurance policy; they don’t.

“I feel it’s unfair. We have to go through licensing fees. The only thing they have to do is have a car, and they’re covered.”

However, Uber also isn’t allowed the same privileges as taxi services.

According to Wicks, Uber cannot pull up in a taxi stand without getting ticketed. Taxis pay for the privilege of having reserved spots throughout the area, and encroaching on their spots is illegal because they’re operating as a cab without a legal permit.

A rideshare service car getting a ticket at a taxi stand.

A rideshare service car getting a ticket at a taxi stand.

“If they do a U-turn, if they park out in a lane and disrupt traffic in any way, they will get a ticket,” said Wicks. “They are not exempt from the rules.”

Josh Scott, 19-year-old Michigan State University student, said that he doesn’t feel safe using the rideshare service.

“I prefer taxis,” said Scott. “I’ve just heard a lot of stories about Uber in the news, a lot of rapes and incidences where people are pretending to be drivers and actually aren’t. I don’t trust it.”

Wicks said one of the main goals of the Authority is to make an “accountability mechanism” for Uber.

“We just want to make sure that, and we’ve seen a lot of this with taxis, that there are no people that operate on campus that are not allowed to operate in East Lansing because of a criminal background history,” said Wicks. “There have been a couple of scary people, really and truly.”

However, the authority will not be responsible for conducting Uber’s background checks.

“That would be ideal,” said Wicks. “We just don’t have the resources to do that. What we really want from them is … access to their records so we can ensure that they have a driver in good standing and so we know who’s operating here in town.”

Yet, despite all of the controversy, students still use the rideshare service frequently.

“I use it all the time. I read the news, I know what’s been going on,” said Kevin Ruprich, 19-year-old Michigan State University student. “But it’s quick, and it’s normally pretty cheap.”

East Lansing and the authority will continue to meet and discuss regulating rideshare services such as Uber.

“We’re not 100 percent of the way there yet,” said Triplett. “But we’re very close.”

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