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State Rep Alan Powell to Chair Study Committee on Online Taxi Services

State Represenative Alan Powell will be chairing a new House committee that will investigate the lack of regulations and controls surrounding new Web and app-based taxi services.

On Wednesday, State House Speaker David Ralston announced Powell had been named the chair of the House Study Committee on For-Hire Transportation Services.

Powell is the author of HR1200, which called for the study and was passed in the 2014 General Assembly. Powell said traditional taxi services must be licensed by the State, but online services, such as Uber.com, are not.

"Anyone who offers themselves as a taxi driver, it's always been the policy of this state that the person submits to a background check," Powell said. "That's so people who use these services know these people are licensed and law-abiding citizens."

However, he said the new taxi services conduct all their business, including payments via smartphone apps or online. Additionally, anyone can sign up to be a driver. And while Powell believes those kinds of transportation services are a good idea, he said one problem is the customer has no idea who's behind the wheel.

"They need to have background checks," Powell said. "That's what we expect for taxi drivers and bus drivers. They submit a background check from their local law enforcement and are fingerprinted. It says that the driver is not a sex offender or a thief, for example."

And Powell said there are other issues as well with drivers.

"If there's an accident and that driver has not told their insurance company that they are using their vehicle for commercial purposes, the insurance company won't pay," Powell explained. "And then we found out that types of taxi services aren't paying sales taxes."

Powell said once his committee finishes their study, it will be presented to the General Assembly in January.

However, he said because these companies operate solely online, he's not sure exactly how the State will be able to regulate them.