You’ll be out of luck next time you want to hail an Uber down the yellow brick road in Kansas.
Tuesday, May 5, 2015 was the last day Uber operated in the state thanks to a legislative override of Governor Sam Brownback’s veto of the Kansas Transportation Network Company Services Act. The Kansas House of Representatives overruled the veto by a 96-25 vote and a 34-5 vote in the Kansas Senate. The legislation requires drivers pass a local and national criminal background check conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (FBI) before they are allowed to operate as a driver of a transport network company (TNC). The new law further requires “the vehicle must be covered under primary automobile insurance that provides at least $1 million for death, bodily injury, and property damage, besides meeting other conditions.”
Uber said Kansas was the first and only state that enacted “unbalanced, backward regulations,” that forced the company from operating in the state and destroying jobs and earning opportunities in the process.
Uber began operating in Kansas in 2014. Since then it’s offered tens of thousands of rides for residents of and visitors to The Sunflower State. During this time, Uber contracted with private companies to run background checks. These checks ran social security numbers against county-by-county records.
Uber’s Tornado of a Lobbying Campaign
When the Kansas legislature took up the issue of the Kansas Transportation Network Company Services Act; Uber launched an email campaign from customers defending the service and demanding the Legislature allow it to operate in the state free from the burdensome regulation.
As part of its “Saving Kansas” campaign, Uber attempted to leverage support from its most loyal customers. It sent out an email to customers with a link to page that said “[i]f SB 117 becomes law, it will force Uber to cease all operations throughout KS.”
However, what began as an e-mail campaign turned into a takedown of the entire capitol email system. Legislators and their aides were unable to access their email accounts for hours as more than 1,500 emails were sent to each and every legislator’s office from Uber customers.
Ding Dong the Bill is Dead—Or is It?
Governor Sam Brownback, citing the importance of creating a friendly economic environment that embraces innovation and the growth of new businesses, vetoed SB 117. In a public statement, he said:
“To overregulate or improperly regulate an emerging industry before the marketplace actors make proper arrangements is to invite more problems, not less. Kansas should be known as a state that embraces economic growth and innovation. The jobs created by this new industry can bring opportunity to many Kansas families. . . In the meantime, local municipalities will regulate the ride-sharing industry just as they have always done with traditional passenger transportation companies. At this moment in time, they are better equipped to understand the unique and emerging challenges and opportunities the ride-sharing industry brings to their communities.”
However, the Kansas House of Representatives overruled the veto by a 96-25 vote and a 34-5 vote in the Kansas Senate on May 5 to the disappointment of the Governor and Uber drivers and passengers across the state.
The Response to the Override
The morning after the override vote Uber promptly stopped offering its services in Kansas. It sent a message out to all Uber drivers and users, via the app, which read:
“KANSAS JUST SHUT DOWN UBER
NO PICKUPS EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY
KS Legislators voted to override Gov. Brownback’s veto of SB 117. Effective immediately, Uber can no longer operate in KS. We’re saddened by the loss of hundreds of jobs, safe rides, and consumer choice in Kansas.”
Roughly 800 drivers across Kansas in ten of its population centers were immediately put out of a job. Eric Henderson, a former Kansas Uber driver said “This has taken away a couple thousand dollars of income every month which is what my family relies on to survive to pay our bills to buy groceries things like that.” Uber published on their blog that Kansas legislators “chose not to listen to their constituents,” and “destroyed hundreds of Kansas jobs and thousands of new earning opportunities in the coming years.”
However, not all agreed that Uber had to suspend operations. Kansas Senator Jeff Longbine, Republican from Emporia, said that Uber acted too hastily. “Why they would cease operations this afternoon, I think shows some of the difficulty we’ve had in reaching a compromise,” he said to reporters.
Regardless, whether you love it or hate it, the Kansas Transportation Network Company Services Act fell on top of Uber’s Kansas operations like a house. Uber’s gone from Kansas for now. Someday it might return. But at least for now, if you want an Uber ride, you’ll have to look somewhere over the rainbow.