The ride sharing company Uber could be driving into Birmingham. The company has posted online ads for drivers although they won't say specifically whether they have plans to come to Birmingham. Such ride sharing operations have become common in larger cities around the country and the world. They work by using a smart phone ap to connect people with vehicles for hire.
But many governments have cried foul, even barring them from operating, saying they're just unregulated taxi services. Birmingham City Councilwoman Kim Rafferty, who chairs the transportation committee, is trying to get ahead of that and is currently updating the city's transportation code to deal with ride sharing companies.
She says she's used Uber in Washington D.C. and likes it. What concerns her are services such as the lower cost UberX, where people contract to use their personal cars to pick up riders.
"It's more individuals operating within a vacuum," said Rafferty. "So with these types of companies we need to be proactive, putting language in there that defines them, in our code, which will then force them or strongly encourage them to comply."
Rafferty says passengers who pay for these services have an expectation of safety and that the driver is insured and will be responsible. She says if a driver is found to be operating under the radar, the city should be able to seize the vehicle.
Rafferty says most regulations pertaining to ride sharing vehicles are in place. Definitions will need to be updated.
Taxi companies have generally been upset over ride sharing companies saying they're unfair competition. Taxi drivers in several European cities staged protests against Uber earlier this month.
Ellis Houston, President of Yellow Cab of Birmingham, told the Birmingham Business Journal he doesn't mind the competition but doesn't believe Uber is competing on an even playing field.
Birmingham City Councilwoman Kim Rafferty says ride sharing and taxis complement each other and aren't necessarily in direct competition.
"In the end, the marketplace is going to decide who is successful and who is not," Rafferty said.
Rafferty says Uber is reaching out to Alabama, but the new rules she's developing might give the company pause.
"I think once these new regulations are in place, it may back them up a bit and make them reconsider coming in because they will have to be regulated," Rafferty said.
WBHM has reached out to Uber for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.
~ Andrew Yeager, June 24, 2014