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Friday, May 29, 2015

Burlington Mayor Proposes Plan to Make Uber Legal

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 12:33 PM

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Members of Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s administration think they've found a way to get along with Uber. The city attorney’s office has drawn up a temporary operating agreement with the mammoth ride-share company that will be presented to the city council Monday.

Since Uber launched in Burlington last fall, its drivers, who connect with passengers through an app, have been chauffeuring passengers without following the city’s vehicle-for-hire ordinance. Disgruntled traditional taxi drivers have been harping on city officials to “level the playing field” by cracking down on the company.

Despite their discontent, Weinberger said he was excited about the new service and wanted to find a way to allow it to operate here legally.

The agreement is supposed to be a stopgap solution until the city can rewrite its vehicle-for-hire ordinance to specifically address smartphone-based ride-share services. After an Uber driver who was also licensed by the city to drive taxis was arrested on a sexual assault charge last week, Weinberger pledged to address other shortcomings in Burlington's oversight of the vehicle-for-hire industry.

Here’s how the city attorney’s office is proposing to deal with some of the main sticking points with Uber:

  • Background checks: Uber will run Vermont criminal checks on drivers, in addition to the national and county-level checks it already conducts. The same criminal convictions and driving violations that disqualify taxi driver applicants will also disqualify Uber applicants.

  • Insurance: Uber will provide $1 million in commercial insurance to its drivers — at least as much as what the city requires for other vehicles for hire. According to its website, this is already company policy.

  • City fees: Uber will pay at least $5,000 to the city, roughly equivalent to what traditional taxi companies pay in fees for 24 drivers. (It’s unclear how many drivers operate in the city.) Burlington also levies a $1 fee on taxis picking up passengers at the airport; under the agreement, Uber will pay $2 per airport pickup. 

  • Fares: Uber drivers won’t have to abide by the same meter rates that the ordinance requires taxis to use. 

  • Complaints: Uber drivers won’t have to get taxi licenses, and the company won’t provide the city with a list of its drivers. But it will hand over records if there’s a complaint made about a particular driver. Uber will also require its drivers to put a logo on their cars and to post the city phone number for passengers who want to make complaints. If the city asks Uber to fire a driver in response to a complaint, the company has agreed to comply.

    Uber will follow all criteria in the vehicle-for-hire ordinance regarding vehicle inspections and driver conduct. Twice a year, it will provide proof that it’s completing the required inspections and background checks.



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Alicia Freese

Alicia Freese

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Alicia Freese is a Seven Days staff writer.

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