Uber just sent in the final piece of their application to the Public Service Commission, and if approved, the rideshare company will be able to operate in Montana within a month or so.
Uber started the application process in late July, said Eric Sell, communications director for the Public Service Commission.
The PSC will have to review the application, which could take about a week. Then there will be a 20-day protest period.
Once the PSC gives the final approval, Uber can start operating in Montana on its own timeline.
Montana currently doesn't have any rideshare services like Uber.
Prior to Senate Bill 396, which went into effect July 1, taxi companies could go to the PSC and protest new business applications on grounds that the service was already provided.
Companies like Uber are now under a new category called Class E motors, which have different regulations than taxis.
Among those differences, the bill eliminated the requirement for Class E licenses to demonstrate public convenience and necessity, making it easier for rideshare companies to apply for a license.
Customers must use the Uber app on their phone to arrange for a car to pick them up and cannot hail one down from the street. The app uses GPS to pinpoint the rider’s location, and will present the nearby Uber vehicles and pull up driver profiles. Payment is cash-free and done automatically through the app using the rider’s credit card on file.
Uber drivers are considered “independent contractors” of the company. According to Uber’s site, drivers can choose when to work by activating the app and can use their own vehicle or rent one. They must also go through a background check in the application process, and their profile on the app includes their ratings. When operating with the Uber app, they are covered by commercial liability insurance.
The app may be convenient, but taxi services are not convinced that Uber is the best option for the public.
“I would never let my daughter in an Uber car,” said Vance Vanderpan, owner of the Greater Valley Taxi company in Bozeman. “I tell my daughters to take local taxis, with a company that’s accountable.”
Vanderpan lobbied against the bill that allowed Uber into the state. He said it would disrupt the territories and public service that taxis already provide, and that the new license would cause problems with safety and accountability.
“Uber is not regulated by anybody,” Vanderpan said, “They can run rampant.”
There are a few accountability differences between taxis and Uber, Vanderpan said. Taxis must submit their records, including GPS data of each trip and fare prices to the state. Taxi fares remain the same, while Uber prices can vary depending on factors like weather and time.
Vanderpan also said he's worried that Uber drivers can start as young as 21 years old and may have no safety training when dealing with passengers. He wondered who would be checking Uber’s vehicles, since they have no in-house mechanic.
To keep up with public demand, Vanderpan is working to update the technology for his taxis and streamline the communication between dispatch, drivers and customers.
“We’re right on their heels,” Vanderpan said. “If people could be patient and wait five more minutes they could have that extra safety."
The Greater Valley Taxi company operates 11 vehicles within a 125-mile radius of Bozeman. Vanderpan said the demand for a taxi is fairly low, and there are only about five vehicles out at any time.
“I think it’ll come out in the wash,” Vanderpan said about the competition. “We’ve been around long enough and we know all the tricks of the trade.”