The attorney for the city of Burlington, Vermont, says the city's existing taxi regulations cover the partners of Uber, and that the company is in violation of the law with its practices.
Uber, a high-tech way of summoning a ride, announced it is operating in Burlington through its uberX platform, which forms agreements to team with partner drivers who are their own bosses, using their own cars, and on their own schedules. Uber encourages users to hail a ride from one of these partners via a smart phone app that is free to download.
City Attorney Eileen Blackwood said in a release that Uber complies with the definition of taxis, contract vehicles or limosine drivers, however do not have licenses with the city and are in violation of the law.
Blackwood said that the city recognizes that Uber's business model is different than that of traditional vehicles for hire and that practices like Uber's were not considered during the creation of the ordinance.
She said that Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is willing to work with Uber to see if the ordianances can be changed so Uber can operate in Burlington.
UberX's arrival in Vermont was met with backlash from cab companies, such as Charlie Herrick's Green Cab. "I demand that the city administration enforce the ordinances that are on the books," Herrick told NECN.
Herrick said he has to pay thousands of dollars in up-front costs to launch each of his new vehicles in Burlington, followed by several hundred dollars in annual follow-up fees. Those fees cover costs of licensing, inspections, and the installation of meters in cabs, Herrick explained.
Uber describes itself a technology company, not a transportation company, and believes that, plus its relationship with its drivers, means it should not be bound by the city's existing regulations on taxis like Herrick's.
"I believe it's a threat to the industry," Herrick said of a system that would distinguish between his service and Uber's. "Either everybody is subject to the regulations, or nobody is."
While Joan Shannon, the president of the Burlington City Council, said she personally did not detect any loopholes that would excuse an Uber partner from the city guidelines taxi companies must follow.
"The rules apply to everybody," Shannon said. "Our local taxi drivers have made a lot of investment to follow the rules, and Uber needs to follow the rules too."
Billy Guernier, Uber's general manager for regional expansion, told WPTZ-TV last week that when Uber comes to a new market, consumers and drivers tend to eagerly greet the arrival. But he acknowledged municipalities tend to have many more questions.
"There's an education process that needs to take place," Guernier told WPTZ on October 9, "to explain how this is a bit different."
Uber was not able to provide an on-camera interview with NECN in Vermont Monday, but a spokesperson issued the following statement:
“uberX partners aren't taxi drivers - they're local entrepreneurs using their personal vehicles to provide transportation in their downtime, and when riders need it most. Existing regulations don't encapsulate this innovative new option, however, we've had really positive and productive conversations with Mayor Weinberger, and it's clear the City of Burlington welcomes innovation and greater transportation options. We look forward to working together to craft modern regulations that give more choice and opportunity to riders and drivers.”
Shannon said any new examination of the city’s handling of taxi companies would be an opportunity to discuss new services like Uber. She said the last time the ordinances were revisited, several years ago, city council members were unaware of Uber.
Uber has had to face regulatory challenges in markets across the country, and world, even. Charlie Herrick said he hopes in Burlington, his Green Cabs aren't left at a competitive disadvantage.