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New taxi-like service in Amarillo prompts changes for safety

Amarillo, TX - A new taxi-like service called Uber is now operating in Amarillo and it is raising some concerns.

Uber is a ride-sharing service that connects customers with freelance drivers through a mobile app on your smart phone. Because Uber operates entirely through an app, it does not fit the city's definition of a vehicle for hire company, which means the city can't regulate it.

An Uber driver will pick you up and take you anywhere you want to go with the touch of a finger, but their background and driving history may not be up to par with city standards. "We as taxi riders do what we tell our children not to do and we get in the car with a stranger. So the city has an ordinance to try and minimize that risk by requiring licensing, background and permitting requirements for the drivers," explained Amarillo City Attorney Marcus Norris.

The city wants to incorporate Uber into an amended ordinance so they can protect residents who use their service as well. "Uber is not a traditional taxi company. It does not have that physical presence here. It does not own a fleet," said Norris. "With the Uber business model, the drivers are independent, they use their own personal vehicles, and they did not fit within our definition of a taxi driver. So we broadened the definition of a taxi driver to include a peer to peer type ride service, such as Uber."

Uber claims on their website that all Amarillo drivers must pass a background and driving history check before they can get behind the wheel. The city wants to check for themselves and said the company has no problem agreeing to their terms. "They are okay with it. In fact, as they were discussing it with me they kept asking me where are the rest of the regulations? They are accustomed to other cities trying to impose broader regulations," said Norris.

Uber has faced regulations in other cities because they offer cheaper fares compared to traditional taxis. A ride with Uber will cost you a base fee of $1.90, then an additional $0.25 a minute and $1.75 per mile.

All other taxis in Amarillo charge a base fee of $4.75 and an additional $1.75 per mile. NewsChannel 10 drove a mile in downtown Amarillo with a stopwatch to compare what a short trip with Uber would cost. The mile-long fare would be about $5.00 with Uber and $6.50 with a regular cab. It is a cheaper option for shorter distances, but if you are needing a longer ride, a taxi may be the way to go.

At this time, Norris said the city is only concerned with regulating Uber for safety reasons. The council will vote on the amended ordinance at their next meeting.

Madison Alewel - NewsChannel 10
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