What rules will Pensacola set for Uber?
- August 18, 2015
- / Shannon Nickinson
- / community-dashboard
Each day, Uber may weave itself more deeply into the Pensacola community, but there still are bumps ahead for the ride-sharing service.
Pensacola City Council met for a workshop on Uber on Aug. 17. The session was aimed to begin the conversation about how the city will regulate Uber — particularly at Pensacola International Airport. Here is a link to a story about Tallahassee’s Uber ordinance, passed in July.
Uber launched in Pensacola in December of 2014. It is one of what are called formally Network Transportation Companies. Uber describes itself as a technology company. It is a ride-sharing car service that operate in a smartphone application.
The app is linked to a credit card, so no money is exchanged at the time of the ride. If you want a ride, you open the app. A GPS map shows you how many Uber cars are near your location. Choose a driver, see the fare and wait for your ride.
The convenience and cost savings over traditional taxi fares make Uber attractive to users. Uber drivers say they like the freedom the job gives them to set their hours.
But as it has in other cities across the country, Uber’s entry into the Pensacola market has stirred the ire of taxi drivers who decry the lack of regulation on the service.
“Uber is here, Uber is the future,” said City Council executive Rusty Wells. “We would look like hayseeds if we didn’t have uber operating in our community at some level. The policy questions are how much to regulate what areas do you want to regulate.”
Rusty Wells, Pensacola City Council executive, gave an overview of how cities regulate Uber at an Aug. 17 council meeting.
Wells said insurance requirements and background checks are the typical hot topics when cities talk about regulating Uber.
Some cities have put Uber under taxi regulations, but there are reasons why that may not work, Wells said.
Uber cars aren’t marked as such. Uber doesn’t own the vehicles. Drivers use their private vehicles to drive when they want.
Uber representatives sent a model ordinance (linked here on pages 51-55) to the city for review. Its highlights:
Uber launched in Pensacola in December of 2014. It began in San Francisco.
Uber is one of what are called formally Network Transportation Companies. Uber describes itself as a technology company. Uber, and its competitor, Lyft, are ride-sharing car services that operate in a smartphone application.
The app is linked to a credit card, so no money is exchanged at the time of the ride. No tipping is necessary.
All drivers are contractors, not employees of Uber. Drivers receive 80 percent of the fare. At the trip’s end, the passenger gets an email with a receipt, the route and the feedback prompt. The passenger rates the driver and the driver rates the passenger.
Pensacola Naval Air Station is an Uber-free zone. The base only allows licensed taxicabs on base.
“To drive a cab on the base, the driver must be licensed as registered as a taxicab,” said base public affairs officer Patrick Nichols. “I don’t think the Navy has come out with specific guidance (on Uber), but I’m sure it’s being studied.”
— Uber would pay $500 to the airport to operate there. The $500 would cover all Uber drivers who want to pick up at the airport. A designated Uber area would be set up at the airport, in the same way that taxis have a designated waiting area.
— Uber will maintain a registered agent in the state.
— Proposal that drivers carry basic state required coverage on drivers while they are not carry a passenger. Wells said that is $10,000 if someone is injured, $20,000 for two or more people who are injured, and $10,000 for property damage.
The city requires taxis to carry $125,000 in insurance if someone is injured, $250,000 if more than one person is hurt, and $50,000 property damage.
Uber proposes requiring $1 million in death, personal injury and property damage when they are carrying a passenger — but that only cover the time a rider is in the car.
Wells said city regulations now require taxi drivers to be 21 years or older, have no felony in three years, have no more than three misdemeanors in the last three years, not be on the state sex offender registry, have no more than one DUI in the last seven years, carry Id and fingerprinted and photographed.
“Uber does a similar thing,” Wells said. “Their driver standards are in some respects more stringent than ours.”
Wells said that includes drivers with no more than three moving violations in three years; you can’t be convicted in last seven years of DUI, and your record can have no fraud, criminal damage to property, or convictions with violence.
Tony Spadafino, representative of Uber, gave council members a walkthrough of how trip is requested and completed. He outlined how drivers become part of the Uber family and data about the social impact Uber has had in markets.
Convenience and affordability are what make Uber compelling for users; drivers like the flexible hours, Spadafino said.
“On both sides safety is the key of the Uber platform,” Spadafino said. “It’s something we take great pride in.”
In some cities, such as Seattle, Uber’s entrance into the market has decreased DUIs and traffic crashes, Spadafino said.
“The social impact of Uber is demonstrable,” Spadafino said.
Todd Thomson, executive director of public affairs for the Greater Pensacola Chamber spoke “on a philosophical level in support of businesses like Uber.
“These types of businesses are the businesses of the future,” Thomson said. “It’s important to support these types of businesses as a progressive community.”
Spadafino said in Florida Uber uses James River Insurance Co.for liability coverage and Checker and Hire Ease for background checks.
In response to Councilwoman Sherri Myers’ concerns about how Uber accommodates those with disabilities, Spadafino said drivers who do not accept service animals are removed from the platform.
“It is part of the service agreement,” he said.
Uber drivers with hearing impairments have their accounts tagged so that when they receive a flashing notification — as opposed to a beep — when they have a request.
If the driver is deaf, the rider gets a message that your driver is hard of hearing, text your driver to communicate, Spadafino said.
UberWav (wheelchair accessible vehicle) is available in mature markets; it curates a list of ADA-compliant vehicles in the Uber database.
Unlike taxis, which follow a set fare schedule Uber fares can vary based on demand and peak times. Passengers have to agree to the fare multiplier before they accept the Uber driver.
Cabs in disguise
Taxi drivers who spoke maintained that Uber cars are taxis by default — that they operate like for-hire vehicles just like taxis, which means they should be regulated under city code, just like taxis.
“My goal is not to have Uber ousted from the city,” said cabbie Nicholas Scully at the meeting. He cautioned Council against accepting Uber’s template ordinance in whole cloth, which he called Uber setting their own rules.
“That’s what they like to do,” Scully said. “We do not need special rules for Network Transportation Companies. They absolutely meet the definition of a demand responsive transportation service.”
Part-time Uber driver Robert Arnett begged to differ.
“I think what we’re doing is comparing two different things that are not the same,” Arnett said. “This taxi industry originated many years ago. It’s been regulated and burden over the years, perhaps unfairly. Uber is a technology mobility accessibility company. To put the two in the same bin is a mistake.”
Arnett said his riders talk about how much they like having Uber as an option.
He also talked about last weekend giving rides to two servers and a cook who used his car as an alternative to standing in the rain waiting for the bus.
“It also offers something to people who are just making it by,” he said.
Cabbie Scott Howard Oliver said cab drivers aren’t anti-Uber necessarily — they just want what they perceive to be a level playing field.
“You’re more than welcome to run a cab service, but you have to follow the rules just like everyone else,” Oliver said.
He went on to describes a situation when a person used Uber and a taxi during Hangout Festival in Orange Beach, Ala. When this person rode in the taxi, it was a $40 ride; under event pricing the day before, the same ride in an Uber car cost $400.
“They say you have to agree to everything in the app ahead of time, but if you are hurrying and not paying attention, you end up paying $400 for a $40 ride.”
Uber driver J.P. Roberts cast doubt on that anecdote.
“As far as surge pricing, Ifind it hard to swallow that someone rushed through it and didn’t realize what they were going to pay,” Roberts said. “You have to type in the multiplier that they were going to charge.”
Roberts said he sees a place for both Uber and taxicabs. He was impressed with the background check done on him before he became an Uber driver.
He also noted Uber cars are GPS-tracked. The fact that we are GPS tracked, so “if something happens, Uber going to give the police the exact tracking of that ride and the person will be caught and dealt with.”
He noted that before he gets to the pickup, a rider gets his photo, info about his car and his tag number.
“There’s no way Uber can replace taxi companies,” Roberts said. “We want to supplement it and give people a choice. I hear people say they enjoy being in a car that’s clean and not 20 years old.”