Council to take up Uber again


Photo illustration by Jordan Gale. (The Daily Iowan/Jordan Gale)


The City Council just might have an Uber headache.

Yet again, officials are discussing the possibility of Uber, the multinational ride-sharing company, entering Iowa City.

And this time, the City Council’s makeup has shifted, with three new councilors at the helm, and one reconsidering his previous position on the subject.

After an hourlong discussion on Monday, the City Council decided to defer talks of a potential deregulation of the city’s current ordinance surrounding transportation services until its next meeting, March 23.

Michael White, the general manager for Uber in Iowa, said in Tuesday night’s meeting that the company has worked with city staff on the ordinance draft and also discussed Uber’s business model. He said the technology Uber uses provides safety inside and outside the vehicle.

“Instead of standing in hail or something, waiting for a taxi, you can press a button, and a vehicle arrives shortly after,” he said. “You can share your location when you’re picked up. There’s also no cash exchange or even cash in the vehicle. It’s all electronic.”

White said Uber also runs background checks on each driver with a driving-record review, and Uber has a zero-tolerance policy on drug and alcohol use.

Uber operates in 300 cities around the world, including four in Iowa — Cedar Rapids, Ames, Des Moines, and the Quad Cities.

Roger Bradley, the manager of Yellow Cab in Iowa City, said he does not feel it would be fair if Uber was allowed to start business in Iowa City with its own personalized ordinance.

“If you don’t feel that background checks from the Police Department are needed for Uber, then it shouldn’t be asked of us as well,” he said. “There is an issue of fairness here as far as competitiveness in this particular market. All we want is a level playing field. The city has eight companies that already comply with the current rules, so it can’t be that difficult.”

Bryce Dalton, an attorney representing Yellow Cab, said the issue is not trying to keep Uber out but making sure there is not a separate ordinance in place for the one company.

“Uber and taxis are in the same business. They’re not different,” he said. “A seperate ordinance is so lopsided toward benefiting Uber, it’s unconstitutional.”

After a lengthy public discussion was closed by Mayor Jim Throgmorton, a discussion among the councilors brought along the idea of deregulating the ordinance for all transportation services.

Councilor Kingsley Botchway said he thinks Uber is something the whole community could and would use.

“It’s not just for college students,” he said. “Because of street harassment and times women have to walk home from downtown, I think it’s important to provide more options.”

Botchway, who was on the City Council the last time Uber tried to land in Iowa City, was against the idea then.

“I made a mistake by looking at it strictly from saying the students didn’t know what they were talking about,” Botchway said. “I was quickly corrected from a widespread support of Uber. I have concerns with safety, but I think staff is doing a wonderful job of proposing ordinances. I am in favor of total deregulation with Uber and taxi companies of our current ordinance.”

Councilor Rockne Cole said he found out about the proposal the Thursday before the meeting and wanted to defer the complicated issue until a later meeting.

“I don’t want this to come out as anti-Uber, I just want a fair playing field,” he said. “We need more time to make that assessment. I want to change the ordinance making process, because this is bad policy.”

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