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Uber service may come in Iowa City

BY NICK MOFFITT | SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 5:00 AM

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The up-and-coming ride-share service Uber may show up in your bailiwick soon.

“[Uber] is definitely looking at Iowa City as a market,” said Jennifer Mullin, a spokesperson for Uber Midwest. ”We are absolutely excited about it in the near future and have seen a lot of emails and calls.”

Uber, the tech startup that provides users a way to get rides via a phone app, has recently expanded to the Midwest with its UberX program, which included Des Moines earlier this month.

Mullin did not specify the earliest date Uber could come to Iowa City but said it could be soon.

“There isn’t adequate taxi service there,” Mullin said. “Especially on Fridays and Saturdays, when people are imbibing, because our goal at Uber is to give everyone a safe ride home.”

The San Francisco-based company is available in more than 100 cities across the country, as well as in more than 40 countries worldwide.

Insurance is one of the big issues Iowa City cab companies have with Uber, said Roger Bradley, the manager of Yellow Cab of Iowa City.

He said that because of personal insurance limitations, riders should be sure that they are covered.
Rafat Alawneh, the owner of No. 1 Cab in Iowa City, said the regulations in place allow a minimum amount of insurance, which could harm riders.

“There is a minimum amount of insurance we have to have toward costumers,” Alawneh said. “[If Uber doesn’t comply] I don’t think that’s good safety for the community.”

Uber faces numerous lawsuits over driver conduct.

Earlier this month, the National Federation of the Blind sued the company in federal court in San Francisco, according to CBS San Francisco. The lawsuit contends that some Uber drivers refused to give blind people rides as well as mishandled service dogs.

The Iowa Insurance Division released a statement late in July that stated drivers in ride-sharing services should beware of their insurance policies because they may not be covered by insurance if a vehicle is damaged or someone is hurt.

Mullin said Uber drivers are covered by a $1 million umbrella policy when driving for the company, even though drivers are not employees of Uber.

Alawneh said that his company would fight Uber if it comes to Iowa City.

His company would try to talk with city officials about it and noted that recent discussions by the city to change regulations are a good thing.

Simon Andrew, an administrative analyst for Iowa City, said the police and other officials are looking into potential changes to taxi regulations that could support Uber’s ride-share model.

“The police hope to have the recommendations done soon,” he said. “Permit times for taxis is in March, and we want to have them out by then.”

Currently though, if Uber drivers operate without going through existing taxi regulations, they could face fines, Andrew said.

Safety is another issue brought up by Alawneh. Both Alawneh and Bradley said current taxi regulations require background checks for both companies and drivers.

“We don’t agree on it; you have to think of the safety of the customer,” he said.

University of Iowa senior Adrian Guzman said he has experienced firsthand the positives of Uber as a service.

“They’re real people driving,” he said. “People you would see walking up and down the street.”

He said the app is simple and allows people to request rides easily, share the fare with friends, and because of constant promotions, the fares end up being cheaper than a taxi.

Guzman said the culture behind Uber is what keeps him drawn to using it over conventional taxi services. Uber drivers were locals who you could easily have a conversation with, he said.

“It would be really beneficial around here and cut down on drinking and driving,” Guzman said.


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