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City Council discusses permits for Uber drivers inside city limits

By Tia Lyons
This article was published October 6, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

With the growing presence of paid ride-sharing services in El Dorado, city officials want to make sure that entrepreneurs understand what is required — or, rather, not required — to start such a service in the city.

The Murphy Arts District opened last week, leaving in its wake a crop of Uber drivers who were looking to cash in, not only on the throngs of out-of-town guests that were expected in El Dorado during the five-day opening celebration for MAD, but also for upcoming MAD events.

During an El Dorado City Council meeting on Thursday, Mayor Frank Hash said city officials had done some research and determined that those who are looking to start an Uber service in El Dorado are not required to purchase a city occupation or business license.

Neither, does such a proposal have to come before the city council for approval, Hash said.

A handful of Uber drivers have hit the road in El Dorado within the past few weeks.

City Attorney Henry Kinslow said he had consulted with city officials in Fayetteville, and he informed aldermen that in 2015, the Arkansas Legislature placed transportation network companies under the regulatory power of the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

The move resulted from a request from Uber and applies to all transportation network companies, which are defined as an individual or licensed entity that uses a website, digital network or software application to connect passengers to their services.

Kinslow explained that per state law, Uber pays the state an annual fee of $15,000.

“That’s for the whole state,” Kinslow said.

Added Hash, “As long as you register with Uber, you’re free to do business in the city and state.”

The issue first arose in 2016 when the city received its first request to start an Uber service here.

At the time, Alderman Dianne Hammond pointed out that there was no documentation that required the person to come before the city council with such a request.

“He’s just waiting to get his occupation license,” Hammnd said at the time.

Hash said a city taxi permit had already been issued at a pro-rated cost. Ulitmately, the Uber service did not successfully launch.

The mayor also noted then that there are limited options for public transportation services in the city because, traditionally, the demand has not been strong enough to sustain them.

However, city officials think that may change with the launch of MAD.

“I think it’s an amenity that El Dorado needs. We don’t have any taxi services here,” Alderman Billy Blann said Thursday.

Hash said there is one licensed taxi service in El Dorado, but those who are drive for ride-sharing services are not required to purchase the $250 city taxi permit or comply with city ordinances that regulate taxi services.

“So, no vote is necessary from us?” Blann asked.

“No vote is necessary. We have been trumped by the state,” Hash responded.

Prospective Uber drivers must complete an application and meet several criteria.

Drivers must be at least 21 years old, have a clean driving record and pass a background check, a process that can take up to several weeks to complete.

A valid U.S. driver’s license, proof of vehicle registration and proof of vehicle insurance are also required.

Vehicles must be 2007 or newer, four-door and be in good condition. Phones must be an IPhone 4s Android 2013 or newer versions of each.

Ordering a ride with Uber is simple. Users may download the app for the ride-sharing service and pay with a credit or debit card.

To ensure accuracy and safety, the passenger will receive information — including the driver’s name, photo, the make and model of the vehicle, and license plate number — before the driver arrives for pickup.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.

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