The Lafayette City-Parish Council is considering new regulations to require Uber and similar companies operating in the parish to do regular background checks on contract drivers, inspect vehicles and carry insurance above and beyond what state law requires for drivers.
The new regulations were introduced at Tuesday’s council meeting and are up for a final vote on Aug. 18.
Uber, a popular taxilike service that connects riders with contract drivers through a smartphone app, launched in Lafayette in January. The service also is available in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
A key concern as the service gains a foothold in the state is that Uber is not subject to the same safety regulations as taxi services, and up until now, Uber has been operating in a regulatory gray area in Lafayette.
City-Parish President Joey Durel’s administration — eager to welcome Uber — has taken the stance that the ride-sharing service need not comply with local laws for taxi services, but there are no alternative guidelines to ensure Uber’s drivers and their vehicles are safe.
“They are essentially operating without a strong legal framework,” said City-Parish Chief Development Officer Carlee Alm-LaBar, who has helped develop the new regulations.
The measure introduced Tuesday tweaks Lafayette’s existing regulations on taxi cabs and sets up a new set of regulations for “transportation network providers,” a label often attached to Uber and similar services.
Uber differs from traditional taxi or shuttling services in that the company does not own the vehicles or employ the drivers. Rather, the company acts as a middleman, taking a cut of the fare in return for managing a system that vets contract drivers, connects them with customers and manages the cashless payment via smartphone.
The proposed regulations require such ride-sharing services to do criminal background checks, driving record checks and sex offender registry checks on drivers every six months.
The companies would be required to suspend drivers charged with serious offenses and terminate drivers if they are convicted.
Ride-sharing companies also would be required to inspect vehicles, have a corporate uniform and logo to identify drivers and their vehicles, set up a system to handle customer complaints and agree to terminate any contract driver with a verified complaint of drug or alcohol use on the job.
Drivers would be required to carry liability insurance — already a state law requirement — but companies would be required to carry additional insurance to cover drivers for property damage and bodily injury.
Uber did not respond this week to a request for comment on the proposed regulations.
Alm-LaBar said city-parish government had been working since last year to overhaul Lafayette’s vehicle-for-hire regulations to include provisions for nontraditional services such as Uber, which local leaders expected would eventually move into the local market.
Uber’s current service area includes the city of Lafayette and some of the surrounding area.
Current rates are based on a formula that starts with a base fare of $1.75, with added charges of 25 cents per minute and $1.35 per mile, plus a “Safe Rides” fee of $1, which helps fund background checks for drivers, driver training, vehicle inspections and other safety measures, according to information from Uber.
The minimum fare is $5.
Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.