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Uber ride hailing service drives into Marshall

September 29, 2017

Marshall News Messenger

By Caleb Brabham

Four months after House Bill 100 passed in the Texas Senate, allowing transportation network companies to be regulated at a state level rather than altering from city to city, bill author and Marshall resident Rep. Chris Paddie was able to enjoy the fruits of his labor as he became the first rider at ride hailing service Uber’s Thursday launch in Marshall.

“I got a lot of questions frankly in the legislature as I was pushing this starting the session before last,” Paddie said. “They would say: ‘You’re from East Texas, the largest town you represent has 25,000 people, why do you care about ride sharing?’ The reason why I fought for (changing) statewide regulations is so communities like ours could also have these opportunities that are usually only found in larger cities.”

HB 100 undoes local rules that ride hailing companies Uber and Lyft have argued are overly burdensome for their business models. HB 100 requires ride-hailing companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee of $5,000 to operate throughout the state. It also calls for companies to perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually – but doesn’t require drivers to be fingerprinted.

The bill passed in the upper chamber with more than two-thirds of the Senate supported the measure.

Uber Public Policy Manager Chris Miller explained that launching in Marshall had long been a goal of the company, a goal that could not have been accomplished without HB 100.

“Uber’s mission at its core is transportation everywhere for everyone,” Miller said. “Marshall is definitely on the road map of places in Texas where we wanted to be. What has always prohibited us from that is the city-by-city municipal approach.

“Before House Bill 100 by Rep. Paddie passed, transportation network companies were regulated at the city level and no two city ordinances were the same and that’s an issue as transportation inherently crosses city-county boundaries,” he said. “We’ve always believed a regional approach or a state approach is best, that’s why you see over 40 states regulating transportation companies at a state level.”

Greater Marshall Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Stormy Nickerson pointed out as Marshall is a college town and contains a train depot hub and several hotels to its name, it makes the ride hailing app particularly appealing.

“(Residents) would be truly surprised by how many phone calls our chamber of commerce receives from those asking for alternative transportation options, particularly from those coming from the train depot or our hotels who want to go out to restaurants and want to have a beverage or two and know they shouldn’t be driving,” she said. “The opportunities for ride sharing for college students who may come to college without a car … could be very advantageous.”

Nickerson said, currently, Marshall only has one taxi service: Marshall Taxi.

Miller said Uber has launched in several cities in Texas since House Bill 100 passed, bringing transportation to more than five million. Marshall is the latest in a line of East Texas cities where Uber has launched this week, beginning in Texarkana on Tuesday, Lufkin and Nacogdoches on Wednesday and Longview on Thursday.

Although he would not comment on how many drivers have been hired, citing competitive reasons, Miller said Uber has been hiring drivers for weeks ahead of Marshall’s debut.

“We’ve been signing up drivers for the past several weeks,” Miller said. “All you need to do is download the Uber driver app or go online. You need a valid Texas driver’s license, a valid vehicle registration, insurance and you have to pass a rigorous background check. Once you have completed all of that, then you are eligible to drive on your schedule. We have more than enough drivers in Marshall to meet the five to 10 minute wait time that people are accustomed to.”

Miller said driving for Uber is a good way to supplement one’s income.

“Whether you want to drive a couple hours a week, 15 hours a week, 20 hours a week or 40 hours week – it is your decision,” Miller said. “Up to 75 percent of the fare goes to the driver.”

Miller said there are no plans to bring Uber’s other app, UberEATS, to Marshall. UberEATS allows residents to have food delivered to their homes.

The chamber held an official ribbon cutting for the business at the event Thursday on the steps of the historic 1901 Harrison County Courthouse. The ribbon cutting and Uber’s kick-off were originally scheduled for Aug. 31, but were preempted by Hurricane Harvey.

“As the base for northeast operations (for Uber) is actually hosted out of Houston … when the hurricane hit all of those representatives had to stay in Houston,” Nickerson said. “And were of course occupied with serving those residents who were affected by the hurricane.”

Uber’s competitor Lyft has not attempted to launch in Marshall, according to Nickerson. Lyft launched it’s ride hailing service in Longview in March.

To become a driver for Uber or for more information, visit here.

– Alex Samuels of the Texas Tribune contributed to this report.