Uber launches limited cellphone-based taxi services in Kennewick, West Richland and unincorporated Benton and Franklin counties Thursday.
It will not pick up passengers in Richland or Pasco until those cities amend their taxi codes to accommodate the unique operations systems of Uber and its fellow internet-based services, such as Lyft.
Kennewick updated its codes in November. The Richland City Council is expected to adopt identical language when it meets Dec. 20. The Pasco City Council is expected to consider it in January.
The San Francisco-based tech firm will launch service Friday in Yakima.
On launch day, rides will be half off, up to $10, from 4 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday.
Uber began negotiating with the city of Kennewick earlier this year for changes it said the city needed to make to its taxi codes that would allow it to operate.
The city was initially reluctant to allow Uber to conduct background checks of its drivers but ultimately relented. The city retains the right to audit the background checks. It also agreed not to require Uber and similar internet-based services to mark cars or post driver IDs in vehicles since customers receive pictures of both when they book rides using their cellphones.
Unlike traditional taxis, Uber and related services may only pick up riders who contact them through their phone apps. They may not be summoned from the street.
Uber will hold a launch party at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Nomad Lounge, 1101 N. Columbia Center Blvd. The Seattle Seahawks-Los Angeles Rams football game will be on large screen TVs during the event.
Kennewick Mayor Young, who initially dismissed Uber as unnecessary, will take the ceremonial first ride at 6:45 p.m. at the lounge.
To drive for Uber, drivers must have a clean driving record as well as no record of violent felonies. Their vehicles are subject to a third-party safety inspection and generally must be newer than 15 years old.
An Uber spokesman said it takes two to 10 days to conduct background checks on would-be drivers, depending on how many places they have lived.
Uber drivers are covered by the company’s insurance when they are responding to calls and driving passengers, though some commercial insurance firms such as State Farm offer policies customized to people who use their personal vehicles to drive paying customers.
Customers may establish accounts with Uber online at get.uber.com.