Saturday, December 3, 2022

Aldermen: Uber Drivers Not Complying with City Codes to be Arrested

In a turn of events, Oxford board of aldermen have decided to change how they deal with unauthorized drivers and vehicles for hire.

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Uber connects drivers hired by the company with people around Oxford who need rides.

Since Uber, a transportation smartphone app, began operating in Oxford, city officials have struggled to figure out how to deal with the drivers that were hired by the company but have not been permitted by the city.
Oxford police officers have been issuing citations up to $1,000 per offense to the drivers, but the conversation changed last night to arresting the drivers and towing the vehicles after more than two months of citations. Uber official Austin Barbour discussed the problems with aldermen at the Oct. 7 board meeting, but promises made at that meeting have not been fulfilled.
“I cannot stress enough how much Oxford welcomes and embraces the application technology — but that does not mean that using it is a free pass to avoid complying with any laws for safety any more than anyone else,” Ward 1 alderman Jay Hughes said. “That being said, and despite repeated assurances from Uber representatives at the last board meeting, the city clerk confirmed on the record that not a single driver using an Uber app has applied for a license, background check, or provided any proof of insurance, as required by local and state law.”
Hughes also said Uber’s “bold advertising” around Oxford in The Citizen and The Oxford Eagle is encouraging drivers to operate without proper permits and licenses. When asked about the citations officers had been giving drivers in August, Uber representative Kaitlin Durkosh told HottyToddy.com that the company would continue to pay the fines on behalf of their drivers.
“Uber drivers who were stopped over the weekend advised officers that the Uber management instructed them to continue disregarding local and state laws and that Uber would pay all of the fines,” Hughes said. “Thus, the fines are no longer a deterrent, and an arrest will stay with the driver and his/her record.”
Due to repeated and flagrant violations by unauthorized drivers for hire in unauthorized vehicles, notice is hereby given that beginning immediately, all unauthorized drivers of vehicles for hire in Oxford will be arrested on site and the vehicle will be towed from that location.
UPDATE
Hughes sent this message to the media today in response to the comments regarding Uber in Oxford:
Oxford is not trying to do what has been characterized as “running off Uber.” In fact, that is far from the case. We just want drivers to comply with very simple regulations – and they can still drive for Uber, Lyft, alone, or any taxi company they want. Our ordinance is not simply a “taxi” ordinance – it is an ordinance regulating safety and passengers in “Vehicles for Hire.” Vehicle for Hire is pretty simple – you pay someone to take you somewhere in a vehicle. These ordinances were designed while taking into consideration Uber, rickshaws and other emerging options in mind, not just taxis.
My reasons for objection and vote last night are not based upon competition or anything remotely close to it. There is no limit to who can drive here. It is really pretty simple: Apply, have a clean background, car and insurance, and you can drive. No one has ever been turned down.
When I reported in my summary that it is based upon safety, that is the case — clear and simple. As a board in executive session, we have dealt with significant late night issues of assault of drivers, sexual assault of passengers, wrecks, fare-jumpers, and a host of other issues that would have been beyond my imagination a year ago. As a result of these problems, we spent seven months diligently researching and analyzing different ordinances measured to attempt to devise the safest manner to get citizens, students and 1.4 million annual visitors from one place to another in Oxford.
The result was a very simple and easy process:
1. Fill out an application to operate on city streets and pay an application fee.
2. Have a background check performed by our police department.
3. Have your vehicle inspected by a city representative.
4. Get a decal to put on your vehicle to show you are a licensed operator.
5. Provide proof of insurance (even Uber’s policy could work if they would simply provide it) and have a security camera to protect the driver and passenger.
Once this is done, you can drive people for free or hire in Oxford and drive for Uber or Lyft, or any other taxi company.
Uber representatives came to town, presented our board with its request to exempt their drivers from all of our laws, and when denied, went full-steam ahead, flagrantly violating these very simple requirements. It has refused to provide the insurance policy to Oxford, or any other city we are aware of.
The clear reason is that the only policy we can find it is not an automobile insurance policy — it is a liability policy if someone actually sues and pierces the corporate veil of Uber. Uber particularly denied insurance coverage earlier this year when a six-year-old girl was killed in an Uber car accident in San Francisco. Uber denied liability because it claimed the driver to be an “Independent Contractor.” Virtually all private driver’s personal insurance policies exclude coverage when carrying passengers for a fee. But, Uber and the drivers lead people to believe they are covered in these personal autos when it simply is not the case.
Uber claims it conducts its own background checks, so it should not be subject to our police checks. This same background check system has permitted three drivers’ in the past month to cause a ball-peen hammer attack, sexual assault, and drug bust while impaired in Tuscaloosa. The “vehicle inspection” is disingenuous when many drivers rent cars or use other people’s vehicles (as the one I rode in last weekend).
The drivers have readily told me how easy it is to get around the background check with Uber. Some websites even give easy steps on how to beat the Uber background check if you are concerned. Personally, while riding in Austin two weeks ago, I learned of an Uber driver who started driving for Uber after his city taxi license was revoked for raping a co-ed. In each of these instances, a security camera would have prevented the problem — a $200 security camera — or changed the outcome.  A background check by police instead of the company with a vested interest would have revealed very real criminal history.
So, the ultimate goal here is truly to ensure safety and compliance. These same drivers are being paid handsome sums by Uber to come in from Memphis and operate illegally in Oxford on game weekends. I again share that I am completely in favor of Uber, as a new and exciting technology.
However, it does not mean the drivers get to skip the narrowly tailored laws. There is no reason these drivers can’t pay the nominal fee and go through the proper process — and then use Uber, particularly when they have personally reported to me making as much as $2,500 on game day alone in Oxford. Some of our city taxi drivers are also Uber drivers in their own cabs, yet they comply. Other cab companies here and in every major city use the “Hail My Cab” app to connect them directly with passengers, but they still have to comply with the laws. Having a different name for the app simply does not get a hall pass on compliance.
The bottom line is that there may be many valid points and opinions on each side of the debate about Uber. However, as an alderman, I have to do what I think is best for Oxford, not Uber, and not drivers from Memphis. Let there be no doubt that I have taken all points into consideration and find that there is no legitimate reason for anyone to be able to escape the narrowly tailored regulations we have in place to enhance safety and security. Please do not think for a minute that Uber is about benefiting young, poor, Oxford drivers. It sends drivers here for game weekends when it is easy pickings. There is not one Uber car available in Oxford as I type this, nor was there last Wednesday night when I left dinner on the Square.
However, there were multiple available on game day, many at prices much higher than our local taxies.  It is easy to be competitive when all you do is come in for the volume times, while our local drivers have to work their tails off and starve in the slow times. Uber claims it does nothing wrong but connect an unauthorized driver with someone who wants to pay for a ride. There are similar apps that connect passengers or goods directly with drivers of tractor-trailers or pilots of private airplanes. However, don’t think for a minute that the driver or pilot gets to operate without the proper license, insurance, and DOT/FAA requirements.
I genuinely do regret some perceptions that we are trying to run off Uber. However, perfection is difficult when 150,000 people come to a town on a day that designed for 10,000. In the end, my duty is to evaluate all information and scenarios and do what I think is best for Oxford. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it is hard, and sometimes I just piss off people. In the end, I want to sleep well and believe I did what was best. That is true with this Uber decision as well.
Amelia Camurati is managing editor of HottyToddy.com and can be reached at amelia.camurati@hottytoddy.com.

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