Our Community

Tension marks Boise's Uber hearing

A screenshot of Uber's Boise website.
A screenshot of Uber's Boise website.

Anyone who thought the Boise City Council was going to rubber-stamp a short-term deal with Uber on Tuesday came away shocked.

So, too, did anyone who thought Scot Ludwig was going to ease his way into public service. Ludwig, who was appointed to the city council last week, dived right in when Uber representative Bryce Bennett stepped to the podium to talk about a deal that would have allowed Uber to charge for rides in Boise in exchange for conducting background checks on its drivers, making sure their cars are insured and inspected, among other items. 

By day, Ludwig is a lawyer. He let it show Tuesday. Bennett must've felt like he was being cross-examined as Ludwig asked him about perceived weaknesses — such as insurance requirements and background checks — in the Uber proposal.

Want to see for yourself? Start in at the 1:27:00 point in this video

Other council members were tough on Bennett, too. Council President Maryanne Jordan took issue with Uber's entrance into Boise, particularly Uber's violation of an informal agreement not to charge riders until the city and Internet taxi company could work out a set of regulations for Uber and businesses like it.

"The business model is “We’re going to come in and do whatever we want, and it just doesn't matter how you function in your community.’ And I’m really uncomfortable with that precedent. If somebody went in and put up a building and said, ‘The heck with you. I don’t have to have inspections done. I don’t really care what the rules are. I’m doing it anyway,’ we’d be dealing with that issue," Jordan said. "The choice to come in and operate illegally was not the choice of the city, and I can’t vote for this agreement."

Bennett, to his credit, kept his cool and answered every question respectfully and sincerely, always observing Robert's Rules of Order. If Uber had sent some arrogant, condescending type to Boise, I doubt council members would have been as tolerant.

At the end of the hearing, four council members — Jordan, Ludwig, Elaine Clegg and Ben Quintana — voted to reject the short-term Uber deal. Lauren McLean and T.J. Thomson voted against rejecting it.

It's important to note that Tuesday's vote didn't mean Uber won't be in Boise. It wasn't necessarily an anti-Uber vote, in fact. Most council members — Ludwig and Jordan included — said they're eager to have Uber operating legally in the city.

They just want a permanent deal that includes more robust background checks and insurance requirements. Ludwig suggested Uber drivers go through a licensing process similar to what taxi and limousing drivers face.

Thomson and McLean offered an alternative: Instead of a one-year interim agreement, they suggested a three-month deal — basically, enough time for Boise's attorneys to hash out a permanent deal with Uber.

Thomson said he's worried about the hit Boise's taxi drivers are taking while Uber offers free rides.

"I am comfortable with the background checks performed by Uber, not to mention the intangible factors they provide that include sharing information about their drivers (before you enter the cab), allowing you to rate the driver, and taking action on drivers that continue to receive poor ratings," Thomson said in an email. "I am comfortable with the level of insurance they place on their vehicles while transporting riders. I am comfortable with the vehicle inspections they perform, which are a similar 22-point inspection we require on our taxis. I was also made more comfortable knowing that the city could audit their operations while operating under a temporary agreement. The safety of the general public is my #1 priority in EVERY decision that I make. I believe this agreement not only offered that protection to the public, but also ended the free rides hurting our taxis and would have got Uber up-and-running immediately, while we work on a permanent solution."

The council ordered city staff to draw up a permanent ordinance to regulate Uber-like businesses. The council is scheduled to meet Feb. 24 to review that proposal and, perhaps, push it into the process of making it a law.