A technology company that allows people to turn their personal cars into taxi cabs is launching in four Michigan cities. But state officials say drivers are probably breaking the law.
Uber links people who want a ride to drivers who are available for a fixed price through a smart-phone app. The service is already available in Ann Arbor and Detroit. Now it’s launched in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Flint.
But it’s still very unclear if Uber drivers are following local and state regulations.
Detroit has worked out an agreement with Uber for drivers to operate. Ann Arbor sent the company a "cease and desist" letter earlier this summer, but the company says Uber drivers continue to operate there.
“There’s definitely an education period that cities go through as part of this but we’re confident in the way we operate and our model and we look forward to working with all these cities to come up with a solution,” Pooneet Kant, Uber’s general manager of regional expansion said.
City leaders in Grand Rapids say they are beginning to study the issue.
Michigan’s Secretary of State’s Office says Uber drivers need to have a chauffer’s license. But Kant says they haven’t been recommending that.
And technically, state law requires drivers have a certificate of authorization from the Michigan Department of Transportation and proof of commercial liability insurance.
MDOT spokesman Michael Frezell says that certificate requires drivers get a vehicle inspection. There’s a one-time fee of $300 to get the certificate, which can be renewed for $50 each year.
He says many individual insurance policies don’t cover costs if the vehicle is driven for hire. So state officials says Uber drivers provide the service at their own risk.
But Kant says Uber drivers are covered by the company’s insurance. He says the company is still working with the state to figure out how to comply with state laws.
Frazell says MDOT sent the company a letter late last year, but never got a reply. He compared driving for Uber without the state certificate to driving with an expired license. The state isn’t coming after Uber drivers, but police could issue a ticket if drivers are caught.
To celebrate the launch, Uber is providing five free rides per person in the next two weeks in the cities it launched in today.