Portsmouth Debates How Uber's Third-Party Drivers Should Be Regulated

Dec 19, 2014

    

The ride-sharing service Uber is causing a stir in Portsmouth.

The company hires third-party drivers and allows customers to request rides using a smartphone app. It’s been operating in the city for at least the past month.

The company also has drivers in Manchester, where city officials have been debating whether the service should be subject to the same regulations as taxis.

That same debate unfolded this week during a meeting of the Portsmouth taxi commission.

Peter Bresciano is the chairman of the commission. He joined Morning Edition.

There was a large turnout at this week’s taxi commission meeting. Many taxi drivers were there to speak out against the Uber service. What were some of their concerns?

Their concern is the fact that they must abide by city ordinance in the areas of taxi vehicle inspection, having to go through background checks of their drivers. Uber doesn’t do that, or sidecar or lift. I guess Uber has their own way of checking on drivers to see if they have criminal records or bad driving records, but it’s not in compliance with city ordinance.

The service has been by all accounts incident-free in Portsmouth so far, though there has been a reported case of assault in Boston. Drivers say they have to undergo background checks. Why the need for regulation?

They may not go through background checks as thorough as the operators of taxis here in Portsmouth or for that matter Manchester. The police department gets involved in those background checks. We have certain parameters and if the applicant does not fall within those parameters, he doesn’t get a taxi license.

The city attorney weighed in on the issue this week, saying Uber drivers are essentially a taxi service, and should be subject to the same regulations. Given that opinion, do you think the city needs to shut Uber down?

Not shut down, but they need to comply with city ordinance. If they’re not complying with city ordinance, then they’re breaking the law and they need to be held accountable.

Part of the appeal of service is that it’s cheaper than the traditional taxi ride. Is there a sense at all that some of this pushback comes from the threat of competition?

When you say it’s cheaper, we have set the cost of a ride in Portsmouth, but that’s the upper limit. As for the lower limit, that depends on the cab company. They can charge as little as they want for their services. Uber doesn’t use meters in their vehicles. The patron only knows that this is the price from point A to point B in Portsmouth. The question is whether that’s a fair price or not.

This is a conversation that’s going to continue. The taxi commission voted to hold a public forum about this issue next month. What do you hope to get out of the forum and what should be the city’s next steps?

It’s a day in which we can start airing out any kind of laundry that needs to be aired out. It’s a starting point for what’s actually going to happen in Portsmouth and what the city council is going to do about this share riding. Do we do the same as Manchester and maybe make a separate ordinance for share riding? Uber’s going to have to say they’ll comply with a safety check on the vehicle because taxis right now, they receive at least two safety inspections per year.

A disclaimer on the Uber website cautions riders that the company does not guarantee the "suitability, safety or ability of third party providers."

"By using the services, you acknowledge that you may be exposed to situations involving third party providers that are potentially unsafe, offensive, harmful to minors, or otherwise objectionable, and that use of third party providers...is at your own risk and judgment."

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