Transportation

Meet Houston’s First Licensed Uber Driver

You used to hear him on the radio, now licensed ride-share driver.

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Rod-rice-uber-car-photo-by-Lara_Cottingham.jpgWhat do you do after you retire from public radio? Rod Rice became the first licensed Uber driver.  Photo by Lara Cottingham

 

Hundreds of Uber drivers in Houston are now able to get something they haven’t had up until now — a license to legally give people rides in the city. This comes after months of back-and-forth between ride sharing services and the City Council.

The first licensed Uber driver just happens to be an easily recognizable name and voice to longtime listeners of News 88.7 – Rod Rice. He was the local news anchor for Morning Edition on Houston Public Media until January of this year, when he retired after more than 40 years in radio.

Rice loves to drive, and wanted to add to his vacation fund. So, in August, he decided to give driving for Uber a shot, after hearing that Uber and the city had figured out a way to operate together.

In August, the city council approved rules for services like Uber and Lyft. But the legal permission to be a ride share driver wasn’t set to take effect for 90 days. In September, Rice encountered a city enforcement officer who gave him half-a-dozen citations for violating the taxi ordinance.

uber drivers
Hundreds of Uber drivers in Houston are now able to get something they haven’t had up until now — a license to legally give people rides in the city. Photo by Lara Cottingham

“That’s when I found out that there was an agreement, but it wasn’t finalized and it wasn’t official. Uber paid the fines. Everybody that got ticketed, Uber paid the fines and took care of all the legal issues,” Rice said.

Uber did that for Rice and hundreds of other drivers. In the meantime, Uber started letting drivers know what they had to do to get a license from the city when those licenses became available on November 4th.

“You had to have a warrant check done. This, despite the fact that Uber already checks everybody before they’re drivers. You had to have a five-panel drug test and a physical,” Rice said.

On top of that, Rice had to go through another background check and fingerprinting — along with a mandatory vehicle inspection, and the requirement that a fire extinguisher be kept within arm’s reach of the driver.

“Just because you’re in a taxi, or you’re in a ride-share vehicle, your chances of needing a fire extinguisher aren’t any different than anybody else’s. But, nevertheless, that’s the law,” Rice said.

Before the new rules kicked in, Uber required drivers to use a car no older than ten years. But, now, the law says Uber cars must be no older than seven years, with fewer than 150,000 miles on the odometer. Rice says that meant a lot of part-time Uber drivers with older cars simply had to drop out.

But the city says that seven-year age limit is standard.

“Especially when you have a commercial vehicle or when these drivers are driving all the time, you put a lot of miles on a car very quickly,” said Lara Cottingham, Deputy Assistant Director with the city’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department.

In a written statement, Uber called the city’s regulation “overly onerous.”  But Uber says it’s also committed to having its drivers follow the rules. Lyft, however, says the regulations make it “near impossible for part-time community drivers that are a big part of the Lyft experience to get on the road.”  So Lyft will suspend operations in Houston on November 20th. 

 

Below are statements from Uber and Lyft

 

Statement from Uber:

“Uber is committed to connecting the residents of Houston to a safe, reliable ride, but we are concerned that overly onerous regulations will stifle competition and hamper the ability to provide seamless, affordable transportation. Uber’s ability to serve the entire community, not just the city center, is largely dependent on part-time drivers, like school teachers and firefighters, that drive their neighbors around town after the school day or in between shifts. With that in mind, it’s important to stop and ask whether rules that require additional, duplicative onboarding steps will deter these valuable individuals from partnering with Uber.

In spite of these concerns, we are working together with the city and driver partners to ensure they comply with the rules established by the ordinance. Our goal to provide the safest ride on the road aligns with the city’s objectives. We would like to streamline the process, but we are thrilled to make Houston a permanent home.”

Statement from Lyft:

“These regulations would make it near impossible for part-time community drivers that are a big part of the Lyft experience to get on the road. We are now forced to choose between endorsing rules that we know will make it exceedingly difficult for Lyft’s peer-to-peer driver community to thrive, or taking a stand for the right long-term path forward.

As of noon on Nov. 20, Lyft will pause Houston operations.

Lyft was founded with the simple idea that by bringing people together through filling the empty seats in cars, we could make cities smaller and more connected. We won’t stop fighting for that vision. From Austin to Chicago to Washington, D.C., elected officials in other cities have taken a different approach, adopting commonsense rules that allow ridesharing to grow while protecting public safety. We hope that will soon be the case in Houston.”

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David Pitman

David Pitman

Host/Announcer

David was HPM’s local Morning Edition host from 2009 to 2020 -- when he was moved to the position of Technical Director of Houston Matters with Craig Cohen, and Town Square with Ernie Manouse. David has extensive public and commercial broadcast journalism and production experience dating back to 1993 –...

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