Gov. Sam Brownback is joined by Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, left, Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, and a fleet of Uber drivers as he signs a bill designed to bring the ride-hailing service back to Kansas on Friday. Bryan Lowry The Wichita Eagle
Gov. Sam Brownback is joined by Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, left, Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, and a fleet of Uber drivers as he signs a bill designed to bring the ride-hailing service back to Kansas on Friday. Bryan Lowry The Wichita Eagle

Business

Uber returns to Kansas after bill-signing Friday

Eagle Topeka bureau

May 22, 2015 10:06 AM

TOPEKA — Uber has officially returned to Kansas, and Gov. Sam Brownback was one of its first passengers upon signing a new law designed to bring the ride-hailing service back to the Sunflower State.

Brownback hopped into a black sedan – with Nebraska plates – to celebrate the company’s return to Kansas on Friday afternoon. The sedan pulled away from the Capitol without Brownback taking any questions from reporters about the bill or any other matters.

His staff did not say what destination Brownback had picked for the ceremonial ride.

“I don’t even know where he’s going,” said Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman. “He’s the governor.”

Brownback’s signing of SB 101 puts an end to a controversy that has besieged the Legislature in recent weeks.

“I am told upon signing of this bill in two minutes Uber will be back open in Kansas,” Brownback said before signing the bill. “That’s really fast for government work to get something done that quick.”

Brownback said he was ecstatic “that these type of innovative services will be operating in Kansas again.”

Uber and similar services allow customers to hail and pay for a ride by using an app on their smartphone. Unlike traditional taxi services, the drivers use their own cars, which is one reason that many states are grappling with how to regulate them.

Uber announced it was pulling out of Kansas and halted all service earlier this month after the Legislature established insurance and safety regulations for ride-hailing services. Brownback vetoed the safety regulation bill, but the Legislature overrode his veto.

Uber resumed service in the state within two minutes of Brownback’s signing of the new bill, which represents a compromise.

The new bill will require Uber to inform drivers that they need to purchase comprehensive and collision insurance if their car is under a lien. Drivers who fail to do so could risk losing their automobile.

The bill also would bar Uber from hiring drivers who have been convicted of various criminal offenses, including identity theft, driving under the influence and sexual assault.

The previous bill would have required drivers to undergo background checks conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, a provision to which Uber strongly objected. Uber will still be able to conduct its own background checks under the new legislation, but if it hires ineligible drivers, it could face a civil lawsuit from the state’s attorney general.

Lauren Altmin of Uber said the drivers undergo a rigorous background check. “The three-step screening process includes county, federal and multi-state checks, a screen against the National Sex Offender registry and historical and ongoing motor vehicle record checks,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Representatives for the company present at the bill-signing refused to answer any questions about the legislation.

A statement handed out by the governor’s office quoted Uber’s general manager for Kansas, Kenny Tsai, as saying the company is “thrilled that Uber now has (a) permanent home in the Sunflower State” and looks forward “to contributing to the state’s economy and quality of life for years to come.”

Vince Weston, the driver who took Brownback for his ride in a car provided by Uber, said he lives in Olathe and drives passengers in the Kansas City metro area on both sides of the state border.

“It was quite a bit of a hit,” Weston said about the impact of being unable to drive in Kansas in recent weeks. “I live in Olathe, so when I drive on Friday and Saturday nights I’ll start in Johnson County because most people want to go to Westport, Power and Light; all the bar districts are in Missouri.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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