Uber to Lawfully Operate in Vermont’s Largest City

 The mayor of Burlington, Vermont announced a temporary plan to allow Uber to operate in Burlington.

“I think we need them,” Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, said of Uber. “Our current system, without Uber in it, has real problems in it. We do not meet the supply for vehicles and drivers late at night when people need a ride to stay safe.”

Last fall, Vermont’s largest city said the service that lets you find a ride with a smart phone app was unlawful, if drivers and the tech company were not seeking vehicle-for-hire licenses from Burlington.

The new agreement includes the following provisions, according to a news release from the office of Mayor Weinberger:
• Uber will have a zero tolerance policy on drug and alcohol use for all drivers, and no one may drive for Uber who has been convicted of DUI or certain other crimes within the past ten years or who has more than three moving violations in the prior three years.
• Any passenger suspecting a violation should report it to the City Taxi Administrator (Ashley Bryce, abryce@burlingtonvt.gov, 802.865.7011).
• Uber will maintain an ongoing customer feedback and complaint system and will investigate all complaints of driver misconduct, although it will notify passengers that the City will receive complaints; the City will have access to this system if the City receives a specific complaint that requires access.
• Uber will conduct annual national and Vermont criminal and motor vehicle background checks for all drivers, including sex offender registry checks, before allowing a person to drive for Uber.
• Uber will verify that each vehicle has been inspected and that it is no more than ten model years old.
• Uber will ensure that all fares are adequately identified to each passenger before the passenger enters the vehicle and will transmit a receipt for each trip to the passenger.
• Uber drivers may not solicit or accept street hails.
• Uber drivers will have to meet the same conduct standards as taxi drivers, such as no stopping in bus stops or handicap parking spaces, no lounging or sleeping in vehicles, dressing neatly and maintaining personal hygiene, and no smoking in vehicles.
• Uber drivers will have to prominently display an Uber logo or decal on the vehicle, or they may be fined.
• Uber will ensure that each driver has primary liability insurance coverage of at least $1,000,000 from the time they accept a ride request on the app until the passenger leaves the vehicle, and $50,000/$100,000 coverage during the time they are logged in but have not yet accepted a ride request.
• Uber will not discriminate against any driver or applicant, and its drivers will not discriminate against riders because of sex, race, religion, age, etc.
• Uber will comply with all applicable federal, state, and local employment laws, including applicable Vermont labor laws.
• Uber drivers have the right to drop off and pick up passengers at the Burlington International Airport.
• Uber will establish a Geo-Fence to manage its Airport business and will pay the Airport a monthly fee of $2 for each pick up and drop off at the Airport.
• Uber will pay the City a flat fee of $5,000 during the period of this Agreement.

“This agreement is worthless,” argued Charlie Herrick, who runs the Burlington-area taxi company Green Cab. “It means nothing.”
Herrick told necn he believes the plan gives Uber too much leeway to police itself.

“They are asked to pay $5000 for an unlimited amount of vehicles,” Herrick said. “By their own count, they now have over 200 vehicles in town. So that breaks down to $25 per driver. We pay $165 per driver. That’s not fair.”

Herrick said he will soon roll out a new ride-hailing app of his own, using a European software system called iCabbi, which Herrick predicts will be better than what consumers in his service area are used to.

As for concerns like Herrick’s, Mayor Weinberger reminded the city the agreement is just for now; for no longer than a year.
Weinberger also noted that in some areas, such as the airport fee of $2 per pick-up and drop-off, the charge to Uber will be more significant than to other ride providers.

Weinberger’s office said Burlington’s ordinance committee and other stakeholders are now working on permanent revisions to city code, looking to balance new technologies, public safety concerns, and business fairness.

In response to an inquiry from necn, Laura Shen of Uber New England said in a statement, "This is a smart temporary solution that addresses industry concerns, yet recognizes ridesharing's innovative business model.”

The written comment from Shen continued, “It's great we could reach a short-term compromise as City Council works toward a long-term framework, and we look forward to continuing to facilitate safe, reliable rides and job opportunities in Burlington.”

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