City of Burlington Proposes Deal with Uber to Operate Legally

BURLINGTON, Vt. – The city has reached an agreement with Uber that would allow the car service to operate legally without a license and without the city knowing the names of its drivers.

The proposal, being presented to Burlington City Council Monday, comes after months of negotiations. The city has considered Uber in violation of its current taxi ordinance, officially known as the Vehicle for Hire Ordinance.

“This ordinance was written without any consideration of these modern technology,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger (D-Burlington), explaining why the city made an special operating agreement with the company. If approved, the agreement would let Uber operate for one year or until the City Council passes a new taxi ordinance.

Under the proposal, Uber would not have to be licensed like other taxi companies, nor would the city have a list of its drivers. Uber would have to provide proof that it performed a Vermont and national criminal background check on each driver and vehicle inspections. The city would be able to tell Uber to fire a driver if it received complaints and determined the driver shouldn’t be operating. Plus, Uber cars would have to display a decal signifying they work for the company. Cars are currently unmarked.

Uber would also pay the city $5,000. According to the City Attorney, that’s the equivalent cost of a taxi company licensing 24 cars. According to an Uber spokesperson, the car service has hundreds of drivers operating in Burlington.

“It’s clearly not fair,” said Green Cab VT owner Charlie Herrick. “It’s clearly not the same regulations, and it creates an environment for corruption and predatory behavior.”

A former Uber driver, Omar Nassir, was arrested last week for allegedly assaulting a passenger while driving her home in his Uber car. Mayor Weinberger said the incident caused him to redouble his efforts for taxi reform in the city.

The city was already working on fixing the system before Uber came on the scene. Taxi regulation is currently based at the airport, where many complained it wasn’t getting enough oversight. The city is moving regulation to City Hall July 1, and planning to hire a new city attorney to oversee it.

A new taxi ordinance is also being worked on. Mayor Weinberger says the interim operating agreement with Uber provides comparable safety to the current ordinance.

“It evaluates all the same standards that the city’s ordinance does,” he said. “Does someone have a violent criminal background, does someone have a history of drunk driving? “

Herrick says he isn’t buying it.

“We’re starting to understand that the city administration is willing to give special treatment to this company,” he said.

Mayor Weinberger says the city doesn’t have enough transportation options, and Uber is helping mitigate that problem.

“I don’t think it’s in the city’s interest to drive Uber out of town,” he said.

Uber’s General Manager hailed the agreement in a statement:

“This is a smart solution that supports more choice and opportunity, while protecting public safety,” said Billy Guernier. “We thank Mayor Weinberger and his staff for their hard work, and look forward to continuing to provide safe rides and local jobs in Burlington.”

The City Council will vote Monday whether to form a joint committee to consider the agreement.

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