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Uber holding back from coming to Iowa City

BY CORY PORTER | JANUARY 22, 2015 5:00 AM

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Revisions to taxi ordinance allowing such companies as Uber are one step closer to becoming a reality in Iowa City, but Uber isn’t happy with the revisions.

“It’s clear the City Council doesn’t understand the nature of the ride-sharing business, or else it wouldn’t try to tack taxi regulations on the industry,” said Jennifer Mullin, a spokeswoman for Uber Midwest.

While the ordinances would allow ride-sharing companies to come to Iowa City, one of the major players in the business, Uber, is hesitant to because of specific changes in how it would have to operate.

Uber is a ride-sharing taxi service in which users set up rides through a smart-phone app.

Mullin said the company is still interested in going to Iowa City but has reservations about the city government’s approach.

“It is basically trying to squeeze ride-sharing into the taxi-regulatory framework, so it is not something that would be good for our business there,” she said.

City Councilor Michelle Payne said that an earlier letter from Uber had indicated the ordinance changes in Iowa City might not fit its business model, and changes needed to be made.

Payne said first and foremost, the changes to the ordinance were for safety, and second, they were to allow a business such as Uber to come to Iowa City.

“The biggest reasons we’re making these changes is for safety reasons,” she said. “And they wrote them with the intent of fitting their model.”

Mullin said she was surprised by the City Council’s decision to include a company such as Uber with traditional taxi companies in its considerations.

She said Iowa City residents have been asking for Uber, which makes sense, given its popularity in other college towns, including Big Ten cities such as Madison, Wisconsin, Lincoln, Nebraska, East Lansing, Michigan, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Mullin also said Uber has been doing exceedingly well in other Iowa cities such as Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

If the taxi ordinance passes, which seems likely after two of three votes have been unanimously in favor of it, Mullin said, Uber would not head to Iowa City, although the company would be open to the idea in the future.

“If the City Council wants to look at the ordinance again, we’d be happy to meet with it and discuss what the right regulations for ride-sharing are,” she said.

The council’s decision to include provisions for ride-sharing companies came from an opportune moment in the planning process, said Simon Andrew, an information analyst for Iowa City.

“As we were drafting an ordinance … an Uber representative contacted us and let us know that they were looking at our market,” he said.

Because of how ride-sharing companies operate, they would be exempt from certain provisions the more traditional taxi companies have to follow, such as not being required to have a 24-hour dispatch location or a unique color scheme for the company, Andrews said.

Like Uber, traditional taxicab company owners have issues with the ordinances, as well.

Rafat Alawneh, the owner of Number One Cab, 1453 Dickenson Lane, said he agrees with the revision requiring cab companies to have a unique color scheme, but he believes being required to have a 24-hour dispatch should not be up to the city government.

“That’s up to me if I want a dispatch 24 hours or not,” he said. “They are telling us how to run our businesses,” he said.

He said he is also against the idea of letting a ride-sharing company into town, because it does not have to meet the same standards as a regular taxi company.

“It’s not fair that they have the ability to run any vehicle that they want, without the insurance coverage that we have,” Alawneh said.


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