KANSAS CITY, Mo. - One day after the Kansas City council rushed through an ordinance targeting ride-sharing service Lyft's funding model, competitor Uber announced its service was now live in KC .
The company announced its service via email and social media, partnering with Kansas City Chiefs star Jamaal Charles. The ride-sharing service allows users to use an app on their phone to flag down a vehicle and pay through the app.
A city spokesperson said they were caught off-guard by Uber's announcement and are operating in a legal "grey area."
“We embrace tech, we embrace innovation. We just ask that they work within the existing rules or work with us to adjust the rules before they enter into the market,” City Spokesman Chris Hernandez said.
On Thursday, the city council approved an ordinance on livery cabs, classifying Lyft's vehicles and providers as livery cabs and operators. The change subjects the company to stricter laws. Previously, the city had stated it believed the company to be operating illegally in the city .
“The City believes Lyft’s services were and are illegal both before and after this ordinance change,” City Spokesman Chris Hernandez said in a statement. “However, we believe this change of wording, to explicitly ban the practice of accepting “donations” rather than fares or fixed charges, makes it even more clear that ridesharing services such as Lyft must follow city regulations to ensure the safety of passengers.”
The ordinance had not been on the city’s planned agenda for the day and did not go through the normal committee process. Hernandez said the rushed schedule was due to safety concerns about the continued operation of unlicensed, uninspected, unregulated vehicles on city streets.
Hernandez said Thursday the city had been working with Uber on entering the Kansas City market, but that market pressures might have forced the company's hand in launching in Kansas City before a deal was reached.
The general manager of the UberX program in Kansas City, Kenny Tsai, conceded Lyft’s presence here “might have something to do with [Uber’s early entry], but we're just excited to be here to provide UberX to the people of Kansas City.”
UberX contends they, too, are not a cab service, but a ride-sharing operation, and their cars and drivers are vetted and insured thoroughly – and do not need to be regulated by the city.
On Friday, the CEO of the city’s largest cab company called that claim ridiculous.
“Make no bones about it, they're providing taxi cab service in an unmarked car,” Bill George of the Kansas City Transportation Group said. “The bottom line is they're providing the exact same service we are. We all fall under the same rules.”
Previously, KCMO Mayor Sly James addressed the allowance of ride-sharing services in the city , stating the companies simply needed to operate under the city's regulations.
Just because complying with public safety regulations does not meet a company’s public relations/marketing timeline, that does not preclude their obligation to do so, nor does it allow us to waive our responsibilities because the concept is popular on Twitter.
Following the city's regulations would cost UberX and Lyft approximately $1 per vehicle, per day.
The UberX general manager was noncommittal about whether Uber would eventually comply.
"When the two weeks are up, we'll evaluate our position then. But keep in mind UberX is a different form of transportation." Tsai said. "We don't fit exactly within the existing regulatory framework."