Iowa House bill would regulate ridesharing services like Uber, void local ordinances

Iowa Capitol
House Bill 394 looks to remove city-to-city discrepancies when it comes to regulating services like Uber and Lfty, and could have big implications for Iowa City. — photo by Jimmy Emerson via Flickr Creative Commons

The Iowa House approved a bill Tuesday on a 92-5 vote that would create a statewide system for regulating ridesharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, in addition to voiding cities’ attempts at further regulation. Put another way, the ridesharing debate taking place in Iowa City may soon be void.

Proponents of the bill see consistency as a driving factor for a statewide system, arguing that having to comply with multiple municipal ordinances — which could vary drastically from city to city — is not entirely realistic for drivers traveling long distances.

Uber, an app-based ride-sharing company that allows users to arrange rides from independent drivers, recently removed Iowa City from their list of “launch cities” after the city council unanimously amended their taxicab ordinance at their Feb. 9 meeting, which sought to create a regulatory framework for taxis and ride-sharing services with the goal of enhancing public safety. The amended ordinance would require Uber drivers to register with the city and carry a city-issued ID card — a move that Uber called “archaic.

However, the House bill approved this week would prevent Iowa cities from proposing ordinances stricter than the proposed statewide rules, potentially paving the way for Uber to re-consider Iowa City as a candidate, lest the company avoid Iowa altogether.

The service is currently established in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. Similar to Des Moines’ current ordinance, the House bill requires a liability insurance of $50,000 for accidents involving one person and $100,000 for accidents with two or more people involved. Ride-sharing services would also have to send riders detailed information about their driver, along with the make, model and license plate number of the car.

Iowa City’s recently amended taxi and ridesharing ordinance calls for the city to conduct background checks on drivers. However, the proposed House bill would transfer that responsibility to Uber and other similar ridesharing services.

Iowa City officials say they are unhappy with the proposed bill, but do not plan to oppose it.

The bill now heads to the Iowa Senate, where it is currently undergoing review by the Senate Transportation Committee.

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