The fact that ridesharing service Uber is operational in Mobile before the City Council has approved amendments to an ordinance allowing it has raised one councilman’s concerns over the Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s authority.
Although he later said he supports the addition of the service in Mobile, Councilman John Williams sent an email message to Stimpson and Chief of Staff Colby Cooper on Wednesday morning questioning the legality of the move.
In the message, Williams said he and other councilors believe what Stimpson is doing is “beyond your authority — if not completely illegal.” Williams also questioned why Stimpson would even present it to the council if their approval was not necessary in order to make the service operational.
“Don’t bother us with minutia if you’re not required to,” Williams explained in a phone interview today. “They wouldn’t have brought it to us if they didn’t have to.”
In an email response to Williams’ email, Councilwoman Bess Rich wrote she agreed with him.
“Legislative protocol should be adhered to,” she wrote. “Whatever privilege is granted by the city to one business would have to be granted to others.”
Rich could not be reached Wednesday for further comment.
Williams’ email was in response to an earlier message Cooper sent to councilors to clarify why the service could be operational prior to the body’s approval.
“In 45 municipalities and 22 states, Uber has operated pending approval of a TNC ordinance,” Cooper wrote. “This arrangement has developed market familiarization and entry of the TNC product. The city of Mobile is following this model and Uber is currently operating in the City.”
Cooper added that in the event council doesn’t approve the amendment, Stimpson might have to consider those as vehicles-for-hire under current city law.
In a response to Williams’ email, Cooper wrote that the administration is simply trying to introduce laws that will regulate the ridesharing service and keep up with technology.
“Please keep in mind, Uber launched its ridesharing services, not the Mayor’s office,” Cooper wrote. “Their position is that their drivers are not operating vehicles for hire and therefore not subject to Chapter 59. The mayor is trying to get our ordinance caught up with technology, so that we can regulate this new option, and wants the political process to play out.”
Cooper also wrote that Uber officials would be reaching out to councilors on the issue.
By phone, Williams said he’s excited about Uber coming to the market, but asks that an “acceptable” playing field be implemented.
“I want both the existing industry and Uber somewhat satisfied,” he said, noting that both sides would probably not be completely happy with any compromise the council works out.
Williams stands by his belief the service should not be operating until the council approves the amended ordinance.
Councilman Levon Manzie, who is co-sponsoring the amendment, along with Stimpson, said it would’ve been preferable for the ordinance to be officially adopted before the service was launched, but added that it’s played out this same way in 45 other cities nationwide.
“I really understand both points of view,” Manzie said.
He added that he “wholeheartedly” supports the amendment, but also said that was not meant as a detraction from any other transportation provider.
“I think it will be beneficial,” he said.
An attempt to reach Uber Gulf Coast General Manager Tom Hayes was unsuccessful. The story will be updated with his comments when they become available.
According to the Zoghby Act — which established the city’s current form of government — all car-for-hire services cannot operate without a resolution from the City Council. A vote to approve the amended ordinance would require five votes.