Anchorage Will Talk With Uber on Ride-Share Regulations

More than a hundred people attended Tuesday's Assembly meeting. Photo: KSKA.
More than a hundred people attended Tuesday’s Assembly meeting. Photo: KSKA.

The ride-share service Uber won an important battle in last-night’s Anchorage Assembly meeting, and will be allowed to keep operating in the city as they work out a short-term memorandum of understanding with the municipality.

Uber is a smart-phone app that lets users arrange for a private driver to chauffeur them around for a set price. Sounds like a cab, right? Well, that’s where it gets complicated.

The Assembly voted 8 to 3 to begin developing an MOU with the company. That will set up the terms the company is allowed to operate on in the municipality. In the mean-time, they can keep doing what they are already doing, which is providing the service while not charging passengers a fee. They still pay a small fleet of drivers, but as long as they do not charge riders then they are not violating any of the city’s laws, or the cease-and-desist letters issued by the municipality since they first started operating in September.

During two hours of public testimony at last night’s meeting, the majority of those who spoke were drivers and company owners who say Uber is expanding their business but not playing by the same strict rules that regulate cabs under Title 11 of the Municipal Code.

Sussie Smith runs a taxi business and says Uber has found a way around the insurance requirements and equipment standards she and her drivers are required to follow.

“These drivers are operating in a commercial manner, operating daily around our city, and risking the public safety for our citizens,” Smith said after the Assembly meeting.

On the other side of the issue are advocates like Sam Moore, who says the city should not, and cannot stop innovative business models from appearing, especially when the current model is far from perfect.

“I can’t see well-enough to drive, I take taxis, buses, and now Uber,” Moore explained. “It’s a transportation option that should be available to all users in the market place.”

Assembly member Amy Demboski challenged many of the public comments made, saying this ordinance does not settle anything, it sets up a mechanism for figuring out how the municipality will regulate Uber, if it allows it at all.

“This is not throwing out the rules of Title 11, no matter how you cut it,” said Demboski, who voted in favor of the measure. “This is saying that Uber’s going to have to play by the rules. This is just an opportunity to start the discussion.”

There’s no set time table for when the city attorney will have a memorandum of understanding ready for the Assembly.