Uber expanded its operations into four more cities in Kansas on Thursday, days after Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed a bill that would have put the rideshare company under new regulations.
The company announced Uber customers would now be able to request rides in Lawrence, Leavenworth, Manhattan and Topeka. Uber already operates in Wichita, Johnson County and Kansas City, Kan.
The expansion means that the service that enables customers to hail rides using an app on their smartphones will now be available to one out of every two Kansas residents, said Lauren Altmin, the company’s spokeswoman.
Customers can unlock three free rides by entering the code “UBERLOVESKS” into their app between now and April 30, she said.
The news is a major win for Brownback, who vetoed a bill that would have set up new insurance regulations for the company on Monday. Uber had threatened to leave Kansas if the new regulations became law.
“This sort of growth is what happens when you create a business environment that is stable and encourages innovation,” said Eileen Hawley, the governor’s director of communications, by email Thursday.
In his veto statement, Brownback warned against overregulating an emerging industry, which he said was creating new jobs and opportunities for Kansans.
Hawley said Uber told the governor it would like to expand in Kansas during discussions last week but it did not discuss timing or specific communities with him.
“We were always ready to expand,” said Will McCollum, Uber’s general manager for Kansas and Colorado. “The people want Uber. They want to take rides. They want to provide rides and now the government has given us the ability to do so.”
He said that Lawrence and Manhattan were ideal new markets for the company as the home to universities. He also said the military base in Leavenworth and Capitol in Topeka made those cities attractive new markets.
McCollum praised Brownback’s decision to veto the legislation, which he said would have stifled the company’s growth in the state.
“When we say that we were serious about leaving, for sure, we’re going to go to great lengths to protect the business,” McCollum said. “But at the end of the day we’re very glad that Gov. Brownback did what he did. We don’t want to leave the market. Kansas is a fantastic opportunity for Uber.”
Some lawmakers have indicated a desire to oerride the governor’s veto, contending the regulations are needed for public safety. An override would require a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.
Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, said lawmakers would make one more attempt to reach a compromise before they try to override the governor’s veto. He said the company’s expansion would not deter lawmakers from seeking to correct what they see as a gap in insurance coverage when Uber drivers have the app on while they are looking for customers.
“There is an increased risk. The governor even admitted there’s a gap in insurance and now it’s a gap on college campuses,” Schwab said.
“What their expansion says is that they’ve been planning to expand all along and that the threat to leave was hollow…That whole thing about them leaving the state was just as empty of a threat in Kansas as it was in Kansas City, Missouri,” Schwab said. “So for anybody who caved to that, it’s pretty sad.”
The bill would have required Uber to certify that drivers have comprehensive and collision insurance. Right now the company’s insurance covers drivers when they have a customer in the car or are on their way to pick up a customer. Other states have adopted or pursued similar regulations in response to accidents involving Uber drivers.
The bill also would have required Uber drivers to undergo criminal background checks conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The company called these regulations unduly burdensome and the Statehouse was flooded with e-mails from Uber customers voicing opposition in recent weeks.