Jackson County

Hail Uber, hell yes

OCEAN SPRINGS -- Ocean Springs is all about Uber, or at least a timely way to hail a ride in the city.

Even a member of the city's Economic Development Council says he can't get a taxi in under 30 minutes.

This is Ocean Springs, the city of restaurants and nightlife, where partiers are likely to want a lift.

The council meeting Monday afternoon will work on how the city can get Uber in town.

The focus: How city taxi laws might dovetail with the new state law that says Mississippi will regulate ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft on a statewide basis.

The law puts the job in the hands of the state insurance commissioner. But cities have their own taxi ordinances.

Ocean Springs has been working on trying to get Uber since the first of the year, said Jaklyn Wrigley, chairwoman of the Economic Development Council.

"The legislature decided to take up the issue," she said. "Since they passed the law, we may have to change our trajectory somewhat."

Ocean Springs needs to either rework the taxi laws to conform with the state law, she said, "or we need to repeal our ordinances and come up with something entirely different."

The goal: For Ocean Springs to ensure Uber comes, she said.

At the Monday meeting, the council will read both the city laws and the new state law and discuss the options, she said.

"We have made the decision that Uber would be welcome in Ocean Springs. The aldermen are receptive," she said. "But the House bill takes some of this out of our hands. Hopefully, it is something we can make work."

Then there's the issue of other cities, because she said another goal is to make sure Uber is in compliance and can operate as a taxi for all the coastal counties.

Having these ride-hailing services -- which let people use an app to call for a ride -- regulated by the state is nothing new. Wrigley said she believes more than 30 states have enacted some regulation.

Mayor Connie Moran said she will be working with the council Monday.

"We will review the final version of the bill that was passed," she said. "Of course, we will work within that framework."

It's not clear whether the city will have a role in regulating the service, she said. "One thing is for certain, we welcome Uber drivers in Ocean Springs. Our Board of Aldermen agrees that this is a much-needed service. ... It is an exciting prospect."

She said it will be used by locals and visitors alike.

Daniel Payne, also with the Economic Development Council, said the reason it "takes forever to get a cab in Ocean Springs" is that they're coming from Harrison County -- waiting at the casinos, where business is.

Payne said the council sees the need for crosstown cooperation and said they've talked with Harrison County and the Motor Vehicle for Hire Authority.

He said, "There's been a lot of pushback there."

The biggest concerns:

What happens if other Coast cities aren't on board?

Will Uber pay the $5,000 annual fee required by the new state law?

What about the requirements for $1 million in driver insurance, criminal background checks on drivers and posting the drivers' pictures and license numbers online before passengers are picked up?