MANCHESTER, NH – Time is running out on a temporary agreement that has kept Uber transport service operating in the city.
The agreement expires June 4, and the topic continues to create division among the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, who could not agree during Tuesday’s meeting as to what to do June 5, the day after the agreement expires.
No representative from Uber has made contact with the city since April’s extension, according to City Clerk Matt Normand. However, an ad was posted on June 1 by Uber soliciting drivers for Manchester, a signal that the service expects to continue operating here.
Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur said he’d been giving the matter a lot of thought, and questioned whether the city legally can enforce a “no Uber” stance with the app-based company, which allows customers to arrange rides through a fleet of Uber contract drivers.
The city has asked Uber to comply with current statutes that regulate taxicab service in the city. Uber has said they do not fit the description. The greatest point of contention has been safety. The city wants Uber to allow for extended background checks for drivers.
“The more I think about it, I’d like to put as much onus on Uber about hiring these drivers,” said Levassseur, who asked Gatsas if he was going to authorize city police to follow through with enforcing the city’s prohibition on Uber after June 4, or if the city was going to take a “don’t ask don’t tell” approach.
“I think the board sent a clear message of what it’s looking for,” said Gatsas.
After much discussion, the board voted Tuesday night, 9-4 against a motion made by Alderman Joyce Craig that would have extended the temporary agreement. Alderman Pat Long abstained from voting.
Long, who has applied to become an Uber driver, said he’s waiting to see what happens.
“I am waiting to drive. If the tranportation network company agreement was to pass I’d be legal. For right now, I can only drive for a cab company.”
Lavasser proposed turning the Uber dilemma over to the state for resolution.
“I would on June fourth or fifth send a letter to the state saying now they’re your baby and now you have to create laws at the state level for this brand of driver,” said Levasseur.
Alderman Barbara Shaw said she was bothered by what she termed Uber’s “arrogance.”
“It’s difficult to negotiate with somebody that’s not here. That’s what bothers me the most, it’s the epitome of arrogance,” said Shaw. They’ve come forward and made agreements with other cities, but for some reason with Manchester, it’s like they’re thumbing their nose at us … This is not the way you conduct business. Somebody should be here to at least attempt to talk to us before (June 4), and I hope they will.”
Craig reminded the board that there has been public support to keep Uber in Manchester.
“This is a service that is desired in Manchester, and I want to do everything I can to keep it here,” said Craig. “It’s going to take time but … let’s let them in town and set ground rules and work on ordinances in committee.”
Alderman Bill Shea said he did not support Craig’s motion.
“Whether or not we approve the motion, we’re allowing a company to tell us what to do, so as a community what we’re saying is it’s OK [to keep operating] because we’re not in a position to challenge what you’re going to do. If they don’t have a right to operate we have a police officer identify them and either bind them, we can go on with this forever and ever,” Shea said.
Alderman Thomas Katisantonis said he felt the situation was clear cut.
“It doesn’t make sense that we want to give another extension. If you want to operate something in Manchester, you gottta follow the rules,” Katsiantonis said.
Craig said the board should consider what it would be taking away from residents by banning Uber from operating in the city.
“It’s easy for us to dig our heels in because it has been a long process, but we need to think of the residents of Manchester,” Craig said. “We have residents that want this, and it sets stage for Manchester as a technology [hub]. I think it sends the wrong message [ to ban them]. We should continue to try to get this to work for the city. Our residents want this, we have people employed here in Manchester, and we’d be taking their jobs away,” Craig said.
Gatsas emphasized that Police Chief David Mara saw not having enhanced background checks as a public safety issue.
Shaw said she’d be willing to vote for an extension if someone from Uber comes in to negotiate with the board.
“I have concerns. Who’s to say they don’t come in with four mini-buses and takes over our bus service? It’s hypothetical, but it’s not an unbelieveable event. Then what do they do? Do they have to follow bus company rules? It’s a mater of principle and working together,” Shaw said.
Katsiantonis said Uber was not at the negotiating table, either because they aren’t making enough money in Manchester, or because “they don’t care, or they don’t give a damn.”
Alderman Dan O’Neil said he agreed with Levassuer, saying Uber has been making money in the city for eight months without a license to operate. “We’re not in position of power. They will keep delaying and delaying and make money. I think it’s extremely hard to enforc,” O’Neil said.
He also emphasized that given the current heroin crisis and concern over related burglaries and break ins in the city, he didn’t want the police to expend resources on pulling over Uber drivers. “We should’ve taken the deal when we had chance to,” he said.
The motion to extend the temporary agreement included provisions for placards, a license fee, random audits and background checks. The board could not concur on whether Uber agreed to drug testing, but the mayor ended the discussion and called for a roll call vote.
Alderman in favor of extending the contract were: Craig, Garth Correveau, O’Neil and Levasseur. Voting no were: Keith Hirschmann, Ron Ludwig, Jim Roy, Tony Sapienza, Shea, Katsiantonis, Shaw, Bill Barry and Normand Gamache. Alderman Long abstained.
Gatsas said the city clerk’s office would attempt to inform Uber that they had one more day to come to the table.
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