Mayor Sandy Stimpson next Tuesday will introduce an amendment to an ordinance to allow ridesharing service Uber to begin operating in the city.
The amendment, which is also sponsored by Councilman Levon Manzie and applies to all Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), would allow the service and its drivers to operate under conditions similar to taxicabs, or other car-for-hire services.
For instance, Uber drivers would be required to get a permit from the city for an annual fee of $500 and the vehicles must be inspected by a mechanic before being used for the service. Also, drivers must have, at least, the state minimum of liability insurance and Uber will also cover drivers with an additional $1 million in coverage.
Amelia Easterling, operations manager for Mobile Bay Transportation Company, said she’s concerned over the insurance regulations because they change depending on whether the driver has the application turned on or off.
“Many drivers get around this because they will pick passengers up while the (application) is turned off,” she said.
In addition, the proposed amendment ensures drivers will be given a background check through Uber. This differs from other cab regulations, as those background checks are normally done locally by the Mobile Police Department. Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Coooper said MPD Chief James Barber would have oversight on those background checks, but didn’t elaborate on what that oversight might entail.
Cooper said the only difference between the Uber background checks and checks done locally for other car-for-hire services is the Uber checks don’t fingerprint. The Uber background checks would screen local, state and federal records going back seven years. In addition the national sex offender registry would be checked, as well as motor vehicle records and driving history.
Easterling said the lack of fingerprinting in Uber’s background checks raises safety concerns for her.
“Uber doing the background checks is not sufficient,” she said. “They’re not fingerprint-based and nowhere near what the police department does.”
Easterling said the Yellow Cab company would participate in the fingerprint-based background checks, even if it wasn’t required to.
“We feel it’s very important,” she said.
The proposed amendment would also have an impact on the way all car-for-hire services can operate within city limits. For instance, the amendment would allow taxis and other services to change their fares, as long as it’s listed in the cab and the rider knows the fare up front. Under the current ordinance, the fares are set by the city.
The amendment would also drop the legal age of a driver from 21 to 19. Easterling said this would not impact Yellow Cab, as the company’s commercial insurance requires drivers be, at least, 24 years old.
The amendment also loosens requirements regarding moving violations. If passed, the amendment would require a driver have a clean driver history over a three-year period, instead of seven.
Uber charges a $2 flat fee for calling a ride using the application. After that, the fee is based on time and distance of the trip. The service charges 80 cents a minute and $1.80 per mile.
The service is now available in Mobile, Uber’s Gulf Coast General Manager Tom Hanes said. It became available about 30 minutes after Stimpson took the first ride, leaving Bienville Square.
The amendment is on the Mobile City Council’s agenda for its regular meeting Tuesday June 16.