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State law governs ride-share firms

Control of digital-based transportation companies is contained in a law that the Oklahoma Legislature passed in 2015.

Dubbed the Oklahoma Transportation Network Company (TNC) Services Act, the law sets specific guidelines that such companies must follow before they are licensed for operations by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. That law also has a provision that has drawn concerns from City of Lawton officials and the City Council: It reserves control of such companies and their drivers to the Corporation Commission.

The final section of the law notes that "the regulation, licensing or permitting of transportation network companies for the provisions of prearranged rides is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission...." It also notes "No political subdivision of the state may impose a tax on, or require a license for, a TNC or a TNC driver for the provision of prearranged rides or subject a TNC to the political subdivision's rate requirement, entry requirement, operational requirement or other requirements."

City officials say that under city code the council is given final control of the operations of taxicab companies, to include the licensing of the firm and its drivers and even whether there is need for another taxicab company. It's a set of guidelines used in December as city officials began working with the representative of 580 Express, which applied to the council to operate a taxicab/touring vehicle business in city. If approved, that would give Lawton three taxicab companies.

The TNC Act does set specific provisions to exert control over what it defines as transportation network companies (licensed business entities that use a digital network or software application service to connect passengers to transportation services). It defines a digital network as any online-enabled application, software, website or system that enables pre-arrangement of rides, but excludes shared-expense carpools, vanpools, taxicabs, limousines and similar for-hire vehicles from that definition.

Passengers are defined as those who use a digital network to connect with a TNC driver (someone who receives connections to passengers via a TNC and uses a private vehicle to provide prearranged rides in exchange for compensation) and notes TNC drivers shall not be considered taxicab drivers.

The law specifies a TNC company must have a permit from the Corporation Commission to operate, and the commission must provide that permit as long as the company meets the requirements of the act and pays a $5,000 annual fee. The authority of the commission is limited to permitting and regulation of TNCs to ensure compliance with the act; it cannot adjudicate disputes, but does have authority to examine records twice a year.

The act has specific requirements for the TNC company and the drivers it contracts with to use their private vehicles to pick up and deliver passengers, using digital technology to link those people. Some provisions mirror the requirements contained with municipal codes for taxicab companies, while others take those basic provisions and make them stricter.

For example, a TNC company's software application or website must display a picture of the driver and the license plate number of the vehicle being used so the passenger can compare that information before he or she enters a TNC vehicle.

The Lawton Constitution

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