FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A ride-hailing service that operates in about 300 cities around the world received something unusual when it arrived in Fargo: a welcome mat.
State and local officials have been working for months to land Uber, a mobile application that connects people who are seeking rides with drivers. The company continues to grow despite myriad legal challenges over regulations, insurance and unfair competition.
With North Dakota thriving from oil production in the west and a vibrant technology sector in the east, Uber backers believe the service will help improve quality of life and make the state more appealing to young professionals.
It's the only state that passed regulations ahead of time to pave the way for ridesharing services, Uber spokesman Sagar Shah said Thursday when the company launched its Fargo service.
"That's something that hasn't happened before, and that's a new step for Uber," Shah said. "It's exciting, the fact that everyone here is embracing innovation in Fargo. We're excited to be a part of the community."
The bill passed in the North Dakota Legislature addresses permits, registration, insurance, background checks and other regulations. Several lawmakers, mostly from Fargo, pushed for changes in the measure to take out added demands for insurance that Uber believed were unnecessary.
"We put in place legislation that makes sure that we're providing safe, reliable rides from safe drivers," said state Sen. Jon Casper, of Fargo, who sponsored a similar bill in the Senate that was ultimately trumped by the House version. "There was a lot of forward-thinking that took place with that."
The app has a calculator that estimates fares for riders, who will pay a base rate in Fargo of $2, along with additional charges of $1.50 per mile and 25 cents per minute. The driver keeps 80 percent of the fare. All transactions are done electronically through the app and no cash is exchanged.
"If you're going from downtown Fargo to the airport, it's probably going to cost you around 10 bucks," Shah said.
The first North Dakota ride on Uber was taken Thursday morning by Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, who was picked up at the Fargo Theater.