Uber tries to drum up support


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Uber, the ride-sharing company, has started enlisting interested Iowa City people to let city leaders know there is a demand for its services.

Uber sent out emails to people who have opened the app within 20 kilometers of Iowa City asking them to contact city councilors and demand the city code be changed to Uber’s liking.

Jennifer Mullin, an Uber Midwest representative, said the current wording of a proposed ordinance — which would require Uber drivers to have city-issued IDs, among other regulations — doesn’t fit with how the company operates.

“The way the regulations are currently written, they’re not ride-sharing regulations; the city’s trying to fit ride-sharing into a taxi regulatory framework, and it’s not appropriate for ride-sharing,” she said.

Mullin said the email was sent out to thousands of “riders,” the company’s term for people who use their service, as a way to rally support.

“We wanted to make sure their voices were heard by the City Council and taken into consideration,” she said.

The email included the names, emails, and phone numbers of every city councilor and the date of the meeting when the final consideration will be discussed, Feb. 9.

Councilor Susan Mims said she had received more than 50 emails from people inquiring about Uber as of Wednesday afternoon.

Mims said, while the wording of the proposed ordinance does not differentiate between traditional taxi companies and ride-sharing platforms on issues like a city-issued ID, a company such as Uber would still be exempt from certain other changes, like needing a unique color scheme for its cars.

“I’m certainly open to having them come,” she said, “We certainly have called them out differently than a traditional taxi cab company on a number of the regulations.”

Mims said she wants to consult with city staff members and find out their rationale for including both traditional taxi companies and web-based companies for city-issued IDs.

“What was their rationale?” she said. “I would want to hear that before I could make a decision on whether they’d have to change it.”

If any changes did come about, and they didn’t radically alter the ordinances, it could still pass on Feb. 9.  If the changes were “materially different,” the process would have to start all over, Mims said.

Mullin said each of the 200-plus cities Uber operates in has a different set of ordinances, but none of them have ordinances like the one the City Council has been discussing.

“We do further background checks,” she said. “We have a higher level of insurance. All the public-safety mechanisms that are built into our platform are already accounted for, so that the regulations as they stand are unacceptable.”

University of Iowa senior Cliff Wallace said he has used Uber in Des Moines, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis.

He said every time he used the app to get a ride, he felt safe, which Mims said was the impetus in the first place for the proposed ordinance changes.

“I’ve always felt much more comfortable in Uber,” he said.

He said he has used Uber for a variety of purposes, including going home from a night out at the bars; and if Uber came here, he’d use it again.

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