Uber users can book trips in seven Eastern Washington cities, but not in the Tri-Cities.
The San Francisco-based firm is eager to offer smartphone-based taxi services in the Tri-Cities. And the city of Kennewick is eager to embrace it and similar “transportation network companies.”
But Uber and Kennewick are stuck on who should conduct background checks on prospective drivers.
Both sides want to be in charge and both sides appear unwilling to yield.
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“We want to do the background checks and we want to make sure these drivers are insured,” Kennewick Police Commander Scott Child told the city council at a recent meeting.
We want to do the background checks and we want to make sure these drivers are insured.
Scott Child, Kennewick Police Department
For the city, it’s also a matter of fair play. If Uber and other web-based firms are allowed to manage background checks, it would have to extend the same courtesy to traditional taxi operators.
Uber counters that a city-led system could quickly get bogged down in applications. It wants to take the lead and give the city the right to audit the results.
“We are in a whole lot of cities,” said Caleb Weaver, Uber’s spokesman for Washington.
The other-cities-are-doing-it argument isn’t flying in Kennewick.
“We’re not going to suffer because Uber is not here,” Mayor Steve Young said.
We’re not going to suffer because Uber is not here.
Steve Young, mayor, Kennewick
The stalemate is frustrating to Tri-City fans of ride services they can summon with a few taps on their phones.
Karen Haworth, a South Richland resident who works in downtown Kennewick, uses it when she visits friends in Uber-served cities. She feels safer using Uber. Its presence is good for civic morale too, she asserted.
“That would make us a more progressive city,” Haworth said.
Even if the city’s background checks were more comprehensive, it shouldn’t prevent an agreement to license Uber drivers.
“As long as the background check gets done, I don’t care who does it,” she said.
As long as the background check gets done, I don’t care who does it.
Karen Haworth, Uber user
John Roach, a Kennewick resident, regularly used Uber and Lyft when he lived in Portland. They offer a safe, cheap way for people to get around and for drivers to earn money.
“It’s a very great economic opportunity,” he said.
Uber briefly operated in the Tri-Cities in 2015, but quickly suspended operations when it turned out drivers were registering in Spokane.
The cities of Richland and Pasco say there are no active conversations with Uber, though Kennewick’s Child said they are talking among themselves and are in agreement on background checks.
Kennewick is eager to embrace Uber and other web-based ride services, Child said. There are no caps on the number of for-hire vehicles operating on local streets as there are in some larger cities, including Portland.
“We want them to come. We don’t think they’re going to go away,” Child said
At its July 5 meeting, the council approved Uber-friendly changes to its vehicle-for-hire codes.
Uber and similar web-based operators won’t have to mark vehicles, since clients can see images of both car and driver online when they book the ride. The city also changed the operator’s license from one year to two, raising the fee to $125 from $75.
Uber driver Eldrick Hereford, a Tri-City resident, travels to Spokane to work. It’s a terrific way to earn money, but he’d rather work at home.
He said Uber’s background check was thorough, as was its vehicle inspection. He was initially rejected because of excessive wear on his tires. He saved up to replace them and successfully passed the inspection.
“They really make sure the vehicles are safe for passengers,” Hereford said. “It wasn’t easy.”
They really make sure the vehicles are safe for passengers.
Eldrick Hereford, Uber driver
If Uber is authorized to operate in Kennewick, he’ll drive at home instead of in Spokane.
In Eastern Washington, the Uber app allows customers to get fare estimates for rides in Spokane, Ellensburg, Yakima, Wenatchee, Walla Walla, Colville and Moses Lake.
The app includes Richland and Kennewick, along with possible pickup locations, but it does not allow users to actually book rides. Hereford confirmed he can open the app in the Tri-Cities, but can’t book jobs.
Lyft, another popular web-based ride company, serves one city in Eastern Washington — Spokane.