The Mobile City Council’s public safety committee discussed cutting regulations on traditional cabs to allow for a more level playing field with ridesharing services, like Uber, two weeks ahead of a full council vote on the issue.
The two sides came closer together Tuesday as consensus seemed to be reached on a number of issues concerning the ordinance amendment, including the way the city would handle background checks.
Committee members agreed to allow all drivers to submit to the same level of testing as Uber requires. Uber Gulf Coast Manager Tom Hayes said the company searches national crime and sex offender databases and also conducts a check of a driver’s social security number to verify identity. Uber also checks electronic court records.
Mobile Police Chief James Barber said that while the Uber check doesn’t require a fingerprint card, which will pick up crimes committed under an alias, he admitted some portions of the Uber background check were stronger because the MPD only checks local crime databases.
Barber added that the department is still talking with departments in cities where Uber is operating to see what other issues there were, outside of the fingerprinting requirement.
The committee also agreed to let cab companies charge similar rates to Uber, as long as it’s clearly posted and the passenger knows about it up front. This means cabs will be allowed to raise rates to coincide with dynamic pricing, which Hayes said fluctuates during times of high demand.
Under the current ordinance, the city sets rates for cab fares.
“Let’s get out of the business of dictating what people charge,” Councilman Joel Daves said. “It needs to operate like any other business.”
One sticking point was a requirement for insurance. While the amount of coverage is the same for each in the amendment, sides differed on when commercial insurance should kick in for drivers.
The committee also discussed clearly defining the difference between an Uber vehicle and a shuttle service. Jarrod White, an attorney for Mobile Bay Transportation Company, said the company operates a shuttle service, in addition to its Yellow Cab operation.
In the amended ordinance, Uber vehicles and cabs cannot be able to seat more than six people. A shuttle, on the other hand, can seat anywhere from seven to 15 passengers.
All cabs and Uber drivers will also be audited every quarter by the city, as part of the proposed amended ordinance.
Also at issue during the meeting, White said the Zoghby Act, which formed Mobile’s current government structure prohibits a vehicle-for-hire service from operating within 30 days of council approval. Hayes said Uber would have to review that.
Last week, Councilman John Williams called Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s rollout of Uber “illegal.”
The council will take up a vote on the amended regulations on Tuesday, July 7.