Uber leaving Kansas after new regulations set

Nicholas Clayton
Associated Press

Topeka, Kan. — Ride-hailing company Uber said Tuesday that it is pulling out of Kansas after the Republican-dominated Legislature overruled GOP Gov. Sam Brownback and imposed new regulations on such services.

It was the first time a Brownback veto of a bill has been overridden, and both legislative chambers comfortably surpassed the two-thirds majority votes needed for the vote. Uber said in a statement shortly after the House vote that it was ceasing operations in the state now that the regulations are set to go into force by the end of the month.

"We're saddened by the loss of hundreds of jobs, safe rides and transportation choice for consumers in Kansas," the statement said.

The measure requires drivers for ride-hailing companies to undergo background checks through the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and hold additional auto insurance coverage for the period in which they have turned on the mobile app that connects them to riders.

Uber entered Kansas in 2014 and had grown its pool of subcontracted drivers to 700, primarily operating in Wichita and Kansas City.

Shortly after the Senate vote, the Uber app displayed a message to Kansas riders saying, "KANSAS JUST SHUT DOWN UBER, NO PICKUPS EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY."

Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, said that legislators would meet with all interested sides Wednesday morning to continue negotiations over the regulations and that the override served to give the Legislature a defined position to negotiate from. He said the company's sudden pull-out was premature.

"Why they would cease operations this afternoon I think shows some of the difficulty we've had in reaching a compromise," Longbine said.

A spokeswoman for Uber did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ongoing negotiations.

Several lawmakers have expressed displeasure with Uber's lobbying tactics, which included posting buttons on its app and blog in April for users to click that sent a barrage of emails to every Kansas legislator, temporarily incapacitating the Legislature's email server.

Republican Rep. Scott Schwab from Olathe, who led earlier negotiations with Uber and was one of the most outspoken lawmakers in favor of the override, said that the company "showed all along they don't understand the Kansas process," and he was indifferent if they stayed or left the state.

In a statement following the votes, Brownback said, "Kansas should be known as a state that welcomes and embraces innovation and the economic growth that comes with it."

"Uber, and other innovative businesses, should be encouraged to operate, grow and create jobs here in Kansas," he said.