Uber, the smartphone-based taxi service, debuts in the Tri-Cities on Dec. 15, but its drivers will only collect passengers in Kennewick for the first week.
Kennewick adopted Uber-friendly regulations in November. The Richland City Council gave preliminary approval to the same regulations Tuesday and is expected to finalize them Dec. 20. Pasco considers the matter in January.
The Tri-Cities is the largest metro area not served by Uber, Lyft or similar Internet-based transportation services.
The “transportation network companies” allow passengers to summon rides through a smartphone app. Uber drivers operated briefly in the Tri-Cities, but the San Francisco-based company shut them down when it realized they were registered in Spokane.
Uber’s Dec. 15 launch in Kennewick will be followed a day later in Yakima.
Rides will be free on launch day. Drivers have been registering with the company in the weeks since Kennewick amended its taxi codes.
To register with Uber, drivers must pass criminal background checks and have clean driving records. Their vehicles must be inspected by a third-party vendor and typically may be no older than 15 years. In the Tri-Cities, Sears has been offering to inspect cars.
Uber spent months working with Kennewick on amending its taxi codes to accommodate the high-tech nature of Uber and similar companies. The two sides were briefly at loggerheads over background checks, with neither willing to surrender that role to the other. In the end, Kennewick agreed to let Uber and its contractors provide the checks, subject to audits by the city.
The new version waives requirements to mark vehicles and post driver identification, because riders receive pictures of both when they book rides through the Uber app.
Unlike traditional taxis, Uber and its peers may not be flagged down on streets. Rides must be booked through the app.
Once all three cities are on board, Uber will ask that they form an interlocal agreement allowing one to serve as the primary point of contact.
Uber was one of the services Tri-City Herald readers said they desired in a Most Wanted survey in April.
Most say they’re eager to see the Uber app go live. But one has changed his mind.
Larry Fookes, who lives in west Pasco, saw Uber as an easy way to summon a ride if there were no taxis on hand.
Fookes said he had a change of heart after using Uber while traveling. He felt misled about pricing when he encountered Uber’s “surge” pricing — the practice of raising rates during periods of peak demand.
He’s interested to see the service come to the Tri-Cities, but said he’s unlikely to use it.