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A spirit that is not afraid

City Council to address Uber at Tuesday's meeting

The Auburn City Council is set to consider a vehicle-for-hire ordinance at its August 2 meeting. The ordinance would pave the way for Uber, Lyft and other services to return to operation in the city.

"Since the City of Tuscaloosa is a university town with similar concerns as Auburn, and since they have gone through an extensive, months-long negotiation process to find a solution, this draft ordinance is essentially the Tuscaloosa ordinance added to the framework of our own Vehicle for Hire ordinance," reads the memorandum to the City Council. "Uber has reviewed this ordinance and our contact has expressed that they are agreeable to this language."

Joining several other Alabama cities, the Tuscaloosa City Council voted last month on language to allow Uber, a popular ride-hailing service, and others like it to begin operating in the city again. Auburn is now set to follow.

The draft ordinance addresses several key issues that led to Uber's departure last year including insurance, background checks, licensing and properly displayed signage.

The ordinance defers insurance coverage code to a state law passed this year by the Alabama Legislature. Uber would be required to meet state standards in terms of commercial insurance coverage.

"If the ordinance passes and Uber does return, services will be required to perform background checks on their drivers," the memorandum reads.

It has been nearly a year-and-a-half since the Auburn City Council voted to apply the same regulatory standards that taxi's are required to meet to ride-hailing services like Uber.

In January 2015, after only a few months of Uber operating in the Loveliest Village, the Council voted, like Tuscaloosa, to apply taxi regulatory standards to the ride-hailing service.

Uber left the city shortly thereafter and hasn't been back.

"They're not a ride-share," said Auburn City Manager Charlie Duggan in a December 2015 interview with The Plainsman. "They're a taxi company. Ride-sharing is when I was in college and I was heading to Tampa and someone rode with me and gave them some money for gas."

"These are people who are driving around town, waiting for people to give them a call to drive them from one place to another."

Uber, Lyft and similar services will be required to pay a $5,000 annual licensing fee to operate in the city. In addition, drivers will be required to display signage on their vehicles.

City Council members, including Ward 2 Councilwoman Beth Witten, have been supportive of discussing Uber's possible return.

"I want to see Uber come back," Witten said earlier this year. "It's important to have alternative modes of transportation, outside of just cabs ... whether its Uber or Lyft. Competition is always a good thing for everyone. We need to provide multiple avenues for people to be responsible."

Witten said she would like to see Uber and the city come to an agreement before the fall, and she would support an agreement much like what is set to go before the Council Tuesday.

"There are business people who need to grab a car for transportation because maybe they don't have a vehicle or their car is in the shop," Witten said. "I have a friend who has to pay $12 a day for a cab ride so that she can go work a minimum-wage job. That's really hard on her. If we can have another option, maybe she can grab something that only costs her $7."

The Council is also set to meet at 6:15 for Committee of the Whole to discuss The Standard student-housing development. The Uber ordinance will be considered during the Council's regular meeting beginning at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers at 171 North Ross Street.

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