Mayor asks police chief to weigh in on Uber safety concerns

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Image from Uber's "Safety" page.
Image from Uber’s “Safety” page.

MANCHESTER, NH – Modern-day growing pains for the city of Manchester means deciding whether a new model of transportation, Uber’s ridesharing, can safely coexist alongside city-regulated taxi cabs and buses.

Uber came to Manchester on Oct. 16, 2014, a high-tech taxi alternative. It’s an app-driven way for consumers to find a ride simply by requesting a ride using a smartphone app and prepaid account. Drivers are screened and hired, using their own vehicles, and dispatched as needed. Cost of an Uber ride is broken down by minute and mileage on top of a small base fare.

In question of late at City Hall has been how to make sure Uber is safe for residents to use. Initially the city sought to bring Uber into compliance with the city’s “vehicle for hire” regulations, which applies to taxi cabs. A few months ago the Mayor and Board of Aldermen tried to come up with new legislation that would apply broadly to Uber or other “transporation network companies.”

But the pushback from Uber in Manchester – and other cities where Uber is in place, including Portsmouth – has been how much regulation a city should have on a private business enterprise.

Uber’s maintains it has its own internal vetting process for drivers that’s sufficient, and they shouldn’t have to require a license from the city where they operate, including background checks.

In a comment published in the April 23 Union Leader, Uber’s East Coast director of operations, William Guernier, said the company fully intended to continue operating in Manchester.

Drivers are hired like independent contractors, according to Uber’s website. They need to be 21 with a personal license, insurance and have a mid- or full-size four-door in excellent condition, according to the site. They must pass background checks, and once hired, make their own hours.

Ridesharing drivers are “screened through a rigorous process” designed by the company that includes a three-step criminal background screening, with county, federal and multi-state checks “that go back as far as the law allows.” They also take into consideration ongoing reviews of drivers’ motor vehicle records throughout their time with Uber.

On April 21 the Board of Aldermen voted 10-3 to require Uber to comply with the existing city charter ordinance that covers vehicles for hire, under Chapter 118. It looks regulations concerning taxi drivers, criminal history, substance abuse, vehicle requirements and record-keeping, etc.

Alderman Joyce Craig asked the board to consider a two-month temporary agreement with Uber, as Portsmouth has recently done, to allow time to work out the differences between Uber and the majority of Aldermen, but that suggestion was rejected by the board.

On April 22 Mayor Gatsas broke with the traditional press release model by posting the following message via his Facebook page, which outlines his request for input from Police Chief David Mara on the issue of safety and background checks. Gatsas said the item will be on the May 5 agenda, at which time he “hopes” for a resolution:

“Hello everyone – apologies for the late response. Let me begin by saying I believe that every Alderman in the city wants to see a solution where Uber, the taxi industry and the city co-exist.

Since October the Aldermen have been working to find resolution & like other communities in NH and across the country it has come with difficulty b/c ride-sharing is a relatively new concept & it does not fit the “traditional” vehicle-for-hire business model.

After months of debate there’s three outstanding issues: 1) background checks, 2) drug & alcohol testing requirements and 3) vehicle registration. Uber has stated that they have a lengthy process for drivers and I have no reason to doubt that they do. However, I do not believe that it is unreasonable for the city to request of Uber to specifically outline this process. After listening to the conversation last evening that is what is at the heart of this matter.

I don’t feel it is too much to ask that the city be shown that the Uber process is satisfactory and comprehensive. To provide a level of comfort I have asked that Chief Mara, the safety officer of our city, meet with Uber and provide feedback. If the Police Chief of our city is satisfied then we will have made significant progress and we will co-exist. This item will appear on the agenda on Tuesday, May 5th and I hope with the cooperation of everyone there will be resolution.

At the same time we need to review the regulations that we currently have in place for vehicle-for-hire.

I agree with everyone that Uber appeals to a different segment of the marketplace. The overlap between Uber customers and taxi customers is small. There is a need for the traditional taxi industry here in Manchester but it is not our role to provide them a monopoly in the marketplace. Our role is to ensure that public safety is not at risk and that is all anyone is asking anybody to do.

We now need to work together to get through these growing pains and I have no doubt that through this process Manchester will emerge a leader and provide a model that other communities will follow.”

READER QUESTION: Have you tried Uber? Tell us how you think this should be resolved. Answers may be shared in a future story on Manchester Ink Link.

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About this Author


Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!